I didn't listen to her. Not the first time. Not the second time. Not even the third time.
"Just come to the interest meeting!"... she finally wore me down.
And with this, I embarked on one of my most formative experiences in life:
For those of you not familiar it goes like this: every semester we got assigned a controversial topic. We spent all our free time at the library (back when you used microfilm!). Then we debated other schools whose students had done the same. But here's the most interesting part:
You had to debate both affirmative and negative.
You didn't get to pick. Often you didn't know which role you would play until the last moment. And many times you would face the same team from earlier but on the opposing side.
This turned out to be the best training in empathy I have ever gotten.
Because, you see, I was always known for being argumentative. *cough... shut up...cough* But something magical happens when you have to argue with yourself.
You might start the semester with an obvious bias but if you want to win you get good at making the opposing argument. And at some point every semester it happens; you suddenly recognize that both perspectives have merit. You can't help it. It just clicks...
I didn't know it at the time, but this would turn out to be a highly useful skill as a therapist from the beginning. Like my couples who couldn't see eye-to-eye, but to me it was easily clear how they were both right. Individual clients who struggled to not alienate others with their opinions, but I could see how they got there. Moms on both sides of the "mommy wars". People thrilled, devastated or indifferent to the last election.... I could go on. It all continues to end up in my office. One hour I enter into one person's reality and truth. The next hour; someone else's.
So here's what I want to say to you right now, my battered and bruised brothers and sisters. I am on social media too. I see and hear and feel all of the angst and all of the pain right now too. The division is sharp and it is real. It is hard work right now to connect with those who are different. It is what I call gut work. You have to dig so deep it hurts. So please hear me with love and gentleness when I say:
If you don't understand your opposition's argument, you didn't listen long enough.
If you can't empathize with how they got there, you need to listen again.
If they seem like a monster devoid of a soul, you missed something.
If they seem completely stupid, weak, evil, whiney, inhuman or otherwise unrelatable? Nope. Try again. You missed something. I promise you.
Please don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that we can all see things the same way (or that we need to). What I'm saying is: if you can't see the human behind the opinion, then go back and start over.
Because working in families for over a decade has taught me one thing for certain: It is not our differences that break us. It is our inability to see the human being on the other side. Once we have lost that, there is no way back home again.
Hold on tight to each other, please. We are all we have.
*Haley you know I love you. Thank you for making me do it.