Hey Mr. DJ, Turn Down That Stereotype!

by Chrysula on October 13, 2011 in defining,mothering,reforming,story-telling,women

The labels we so easily apply and attach meaning to, feel increasingly ridiculous and limited; frustrating in their inability to tell the whole story of a person. It’s much easier for everyone if we stay in our classifications. All this crossing over into different segments; it ruins our sound bite politics and mass generalizations.

Heaven forbid one should hold one position on an issue at 23 and have a completely different one in her mid forties. Or change her mind in fundamental ways at 35. No wonder women don’t run for politics in the same numbers as men. To think one can progress through an entire life’s journey with only one set of opinions about absolutely everything is ridiculous and downright deceitful.

When we know more than a headline about each other, then ‘writing each other off’ becomes that much more difficult. As I have long and often heated conversations on the concerns we all face with my largely conservative community, I am learning more about different perspectives and reasoning. My mind is rarely changed. Nor the minds of my friends with their diametrically opposed views. But occasionally insights are gained, viewpoints better understood and contextualized. Sometimes I leave the room furious. And sometimes there is a softening of positions.

For example, as I talk to business owners I know well, who agonize over every family depending on them for livelihoods, the idea that they are in any way cavalier about that responsibility angers me. I see them ache and worry and run the numbers just one more time to see how they can keep the payroll going when yet another contract falls through. And I see the pain from all perspectives, when lay-offs are the action of last resort. So when I hear from the left that businesses are all bad, I know that’s not true, nor is it actually what the left are saying. But we have these labels again, getting in the way of connection and deeper knowledge.

Life isn’t clean nor straightforward. Issues are anything but simple. We want to press a button and it be OK. We want to spend the money and be told there’s a clear answer. There never is. There never was. There never will be.

Labels are the enemy of solutions. Labels and the judgements that go with them, stop all us from drawing anywhere close to the answers. Yet we must have them. The world is too complex for us to navigate and sort through without some inherent system of categorization. The challenge is to unbundle the prejudices that lurk beneath.

Aren’t you tired of the language of hate? Of pejorative statements? When we lay down the baggage of the labels we use, we might have a hope of figuring our messes out together.

That means all of our neighbors.

Christian.
Cult.
Atheist.
Jew.
Facist.
Socialist.
Muslim.
Extremist.
Democrat.
Republican.
Rich.
Poor.
1%.
99%.
Pro Choice.
Pro Life.
Protester.
Tax Payer.
Rebel.
Law-abiding.
Person.
Human.

What are your suggestions? How can we more deeply engage with opinions that seem the opposite of our own and truly hear each other?

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Photo Credits: Label – iStockphoto.com; Love Thy Neighbor – godspeaks.com

 

{ 2 comments }

Victoria Pynchon October 13, 2011 at 11:04 pm

1. We start with active listening – “I hear you saying X and Y, is that right?”
2. Then we explore the stories to give rise to the opinion, while at the same time building trust be demonstrating that we’re a safe conversational partner who will not demean or shame the other – “I hear how strongly you feel about abortion. Tell me a little bit about how you arrived at your opinion.”
3. This question calls for a life story, with which there can be no argument. I can refuse to believe what you OPINE but I cannot refuse to believe or understand the depth of your own personal experience – and when you tell it to me, I am certain that our own experiences will overlap in major ways and our differences, though they will be thrown into sharp relief, will not be all we have between us.
4. We listen actively and empathize – “that must have been difficult to see your mother make the decision to have an abortion when you so badly wanted a sister or brother” or “I understand; my church raised me with the same set of beliefs and frankly I miss the certainty that they provided.”
5. IF WE’RE ASKED about our own OPINIONS, we can give them, acknowledging that though they differ from our conversation partner’s opinions, we understand that both of us have thought long and hard about what has brought us to strongly believe what we do and that we respect one another’s opinions even if we disagree about them.
6. If we’re not asked about our own opinions, what’s the point? If we cannot deepen the relationship by telling our own story as opposed to our own belief, we distance ourselves from those about whom we claim to care deeply.
7. Rinse. Repeat.

Chrysula October 13, 2011 at 11:13 pm

The crux is point 5. Because in reality, most of us just want to do that, and only that. Give our opinions and talk over the top of each other. The restraint and discipline required to truly listen, to ask those questions that lead to understanding (if we listen) is one of the most difficult things required of an adult in this climate. Gratitude to you Victoria, for taking the time to share your wisdom on this topic.

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