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Current Events Across Difference
There are so many current events that are engaging us in difficult conversations across political, social, and experiential differences. Whether that’s access to abortion, defunding police, affordable and accessible housing, or climate disaster—many of us struggle to have conversations with people who do not share our political or social commitments. These differences are not simple disagreements in opinion, but in how we shape our world, have (or don’t have) our needs met, and often whether we survive in a world with increasing material, mental health, and spiritual challenges.
Some of the most difficult conflict we will face as individuals are the conflicts we have about worldview / politics, with people we otherwise want to stay in relationship with—our parents, our childhood friends, our extended families, our religious communities, and so on. We can experience painful disconnections and disorientation when people we love and care about hold values or beliefs that are out of alignment with our own—especially when our wellbeing or the wellbeing of people we care about is on the line.
When these topics arise, there are a few immediate questions we can ask ourselves:
How is this difference impacting our relationship with each other?
If they never change their mind, can/should the relationship be preserved?
How do I want to engage with people who hold these kinds of differences? (i.e. what are my values around how I treat people in these situations)
When thinking about these reflections, we want to think about whether this relationship is:
causing me to compromise my integrity/wholeness (or “intactness” as one student recently put it)?
contributing to harm that comes from their beliefs/positions—e.g. does their association to me justify their beliefs or give them credibility? OR
providing an opportunity to plant seeds for transformation and growth?
If we come away from these reflections realizing that staying in the relationship is the best thing to do—we can then think about how we can engage in these conversations in ways that plant seeds, rather than mutual destruction.
Understanding Motivated Reasoning
Studies have found that all humans act from motivated reasoning (aka confirmation bias). As humans, we are motivated to accept information that confirms our existing beliefs and feelings, interpret information in ways that confirm our beliefs, and reject information that contradicts it. This is an unconscious process. Psychologically, it can be physically and mentally disorienting for our core beliefs to be contradicted—we are naturally inclined to avoid that pain.
Knowing that human brains work in this way (not to say we all have the same brains), lets us know that we are going into most political conversations looking for ways to reinforce or confirm the beliefs that we already hold and we are suspecious or doubting of information that would lead us to uncomfortable truths or realities.
If we want to go beyond someone’s motivated reasoning and truly connect with them, we have to understand what they are motivated by—what are their core beliefs and values, why are those beliefs and values important to them, and what purpose do those ideas serve in their life.
For example—arguing with people who are anti-choice by saying that “a woman has a right to choose” and using research and data to show that a fetus isn’t a living being is very likely going to do nothing to change someone’s mind who already believes the opposite. Because of motivated reasoning, this will likely further entrench their original beliefs (as they mentally argue against you). We all wish that people didn’t need a personal investment to change—they shouldn’t have to benefit personally in order to lean toward justice. But that just isn’t how humans tend to work. If someone is on the fence, facts, data, and emotional appeals often do work to create shifts—these are the people being reaching by popular education campaigns and political discourse. But if someone already has a deep commitment to an opposing or even moderately different position, then in order to shift they need to see how a different perspective aligns with the things that motivate them deeply.
While anti-choice legislation is driven by a minority of elite men pushing an agenda that likely has nothing to do with care for human children or the sanctity of life—most everyday working people who are anti-choice are motivated by deeply held beliefs that a fetus is a life, a religious belief, or a personal experience of loss. For example, I once had a very long conversation with a woman who had been convinced by a doctor to have an abortion, without being offered social supports to keep her baby—a completely awful situation that is so realistic under capitalism. Misinformation led her to believe that most women had these experiences, reinforcing her fears that poor women are being manipulated into harming their unborn children.
Motivated reasoning is not about the surface level argument “a fetus is a living being”—but about the much deeper, soul/gut-level beliefs that make that so important to a particular person or group. If a fetus is a life, why does it matter so much to preserve that life in particular—what experiences, values, fears, or spiritual commitments are on the line for them? A huge motivator for many people is belonging. Everyone in their community believes a particular thing, if they were to change their beliefs then they would face abandonment, ridicule, or excommunication. We can understand this better by asking them questions like:
What led you to feel so strongly about this?
What is at stake for you (what do you fear losing)?
What is most unsettling/unnerving about the opposing view?
Only when we know these things can we begin to truly reach them.
Once we understand what someone is motivated by, we can lean into our relationship with them to make a real connection. We want to show them that we care about them—we care about what scares them, what they’ve lost, what they’ve grieved, and the experiences that have shaped who they are. If we know that their literal everlasting soul is what is at stake, or that they had a traumatic experience that deeply impacted their perspective—we should genuinely be able to meet them where they are. If we can’t—we may not be the right person to have these conversations, because too much may be at stake for us to engage in compassion (and that’s OKAY!).
The connections we make in relationships can be based on those underlying needs—
What other approaches to this political/ethical/moral question might meet their underlying need or fear?
What care, support, or security are they missing that we could help to fill?
What aspects of their position can we be compassionate about and connect to?
Connection is also about reciprocity. Sharing with someone how we are directly impacted by an issue—not as a jab or accusation but from the heart—can show someone that we care about the relationship and aren’t just there to judge or patronize. We can also be honest about our own fears, insecurities, and experiences about how their perspective shapes the world—by making things personal, we can take down the guard that is protecting/confirming their original motivation. Rather than trying to defend themself, we are creating an opportunity for connection and leaving the door open for futher conversation.
Note: there are a few things that block connection right away: humiliation, disrespect (including a patronizing approach), and accusations are common missteps that lead people to lose trust in us and the relationship and escalate defensiveness and an us vs. them perspective. People want to be heard and not cast as villains—even though it can feel righteous to take this type of approach, we have to ask ourselves—does this contribute to a better world/my purpose, or does it just feel good to be right?
Think about a time when you changed your mind about something really big—you shifted from supporting policing to being an abolitionist, you shifted from identifying with capitalism to considering socialism, you went from doubting gender fluidity to realizing that gender is a construct. These kinds of transformations often happen both really slowly and then all of a sudden. Typically, we have heard dozens or hundreds of comments, stories, and arguments about an opposing view that didn’t fully sway us, and then one day we can remember the fact, story, or incident that completely turned the page.
With people we care about and want to have good relationships with, it’s important to remember that they can’t and won’t do a complete political pivot over night. These are the types of experiences that often plant the richest seeds:
Connecting to a personal story that resonates with our deepest connections and values (such as a person close to us or who reminds us of ourselves)
Experiencing something we have not otherwise experienced, that allows us to see something from a new vantage point—such as a crisis, loss, or near-loss
Someone sharing information in a non-judgmental way, that “speaks our language” or touches on our culture
Being exposed to something new, that is beyond “logic”—something sensory, emotional, or spiritually moving/a divine experience
Planting seeds is about believing that a person is capable of being attuned to a generative, liberatory, or spiritually connected way of being—they are or can be fertile soil. Personally—though it is very difficult to believe sometimes—I believe that most people can be fertile soil, that if they are not, it is because our human society has caused great harm and deprivation in their life. While they may not be ready, we are patiently providing the nurturance, seeds, and opportunity for that change to take place now or decades in the future.
We are not always the right person to provide this nurturance. If we are a target of their harmful, violent, or discriminatory beliefs, talking about these differences may be more destructive to us than is tolerable. In that case, we may need to ask ourselves what boundaries would be important to preserve the parts of the relationship that we want or need to keep.
An Unusual Call for Support
Hey everyone—this feels very odd, but I am in a bit of a personal pickle. I lost my job back in December 2021 and have been on the job search ever since. I’m now in a financially very precarious position with no safety net other than my amazing friend who is letting me live with her on the cheap. I’ve applied to dozens if not hundreds of jobs in these last many months and have not been offered a job. I have also been trying to grow my conflict practice, but I am not a business person and absolutely stink at marketing myself and asking for money.
What I am requesting are:
any leads or connections you might have for full or part-time remote jobs in healthcare, LGBTQIA+ health/mental health, training facilitation, or anything else this newsletter leads you to believe I would be good at—I’m great with spreadsheets, project planning, etc. My resume is on my website here: www.lunanh.com/bio
sharing the registration for my upcoming workshops (my sole source of income at the moment): https://www.lunanh.com/workshops
and/or sharing my website/newsletter with folks you know who might need conflict support: https://www.lunanh.com/offerings
A steady paycheck sounds really comforting right now, but contract gigs are of course so helpful in keeping me going. Thank you for any ideas/support you have. My love to everyone else out there who is struggling to get by—please let me know if I can be of any support to you as well.
Opportunities to Act + Learn
Last month, Patrick Lyoya was horrifically shot and killed by a police officer in Grand Rapids, MI (a short two hour drive from me). I’ve been reflecting on the history of Uprisings in Grand Rapids that are now more than 50 years in the past—I invite you to search for the history of struggle against police violence near you. Nearing 10 years as an abolitionist organizer and nothing’s new under the sun—but there are new suns.
May 9, 2022 from 5pm - 6:30pm a teach-in with Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò and Robin D.G. Kelley will almost certainly be brilliant—Elite Capture: How the Powerful took Over Identity Politics Register here
This is a reference to the incomparable Octavia Butler, who is a light in this world.