I believe wholeheartedly that each of us knows innately how we should treat each other. We recognize that cooperation is better than antagonism, that friendship is preferable to hostility, that understanding trumps ignorance — every time.
If this knowledge exists in each of us, why is it so hard to live by this inner knowing? Why in our daily interactions do we so frequently fail to access our wiser selves?
One big reason is that in stressful situations our power to call on our innate wisdom is overridden by our habitual, conditioned ways of perceiving and acting in tense situations. When we feel threatened, our ability to act from our larger, more magnanimous self becomes severely restricted. Time and again, we act on our first impulse to close down or lash out, forgoing a more open, less defensive response that could reduce tensions and lead to greater understanding.
When we act on impulse, we instinctively rely on our habituated responses. But it’s important to realize that allowing ourselves to retreat into our ingrained patterns is a choice — a choice to look away, to ignore the call of our deeper knowing. This battle within every heart to live by its higher calling has been waged as long as humans have walked the earth, and appeals to our kinder, wiser selves have been issued since the dawn of civilization.
Real Talk Revolution is my expression of this ancient call. I believe that when we are attuned to our moral compass, it points us in the direction of a profoundly healing relationship to one another: the state of simply understanding each other.
Simply understanding each other does not mean we need to agree with each other, nor does it demand that we share friendly or sympathetic feelings. Achieving simple understanding does not require investing time and energy to deeply understand each another. It just means that we accurately comprehend how each of us views the issue or situation at hand.
That’s all there is to it. It is not complicated. And once you give it a try, I am confident you will discover that seeking simple understanding is, as stated, profoundly healing.
Understanding each other’s views and the process by which this understanding is achieved constitutes an elixir for the human condition. Any relationship issue or problem, on any scale from personal to global, can be improved by pursuing — first and foremost — a simple understanding of each other’s views.
Yet, despite the benefits of achieving simple understanding, when conflicting views and interests arise, seeking this most basic form of understanding is a largely neglected practice, often not even perceived as an option. The fact that the simple understanding of each other’s position when conflicts arise is so rarely pursued in good faith is a telling commentary on the human condition in the 21st Century.
Now more than ever we need to recognize and honor the supreme value of pursuing simple understanding in our personal relationships and our public discourse. To the extent we commit to simply understanding each other as the essential first step in addressing our conflicting views and interests, we will create a kinder, less stressful, more joyful world.
Helping bring about this change is the mission of Real Talk Revolution.
It’s Time We Learn How To Talk To Each Other
Let’s face it: When it comes to talking to each other about sensitive, contentious issues, we are woefully deficient. In fact, most of us are so uncomfortable confronting people who hold different views that we go out of our way to avoid even talking about divisive or delicate subjects.
When we do find ourselves in such a discussion, our discomfort typically leads us to fall into the routine of defensively restating the same views again and again, perhaps using different words, but not actually listening to the other viewpoints being presented. This inevitably leads to mutual frustration. More often than not we will either escalate into more heated arguing, sometimes even violent speech or acts, or abruptly end the conversation and go back to avoiding the issue, and quite possibly the person or people with the opposing views as well.
This self-defeating communication dynamic is operative to varying degrees in virtually every arena and at all levels of human interaction, from interpersonal to international. It is conspicuously prevalent in our public discourse in the United States, where the toxic practice of denigrating opposing viewpoints and demonizing political adversaries increasingly rules the day.
This dysfunction creates extremely dangerous conditions in today’s world. In years past, before global population exploded and technology advanced in quantum leaps, humanity and the earth could absorb our unenlightened actions without threatening the whole enterprise. This is no longer the case.
The environmental damage we sow as we race to harness what remains of the globe’s resources has reached unsustainable levels. Many scientists say we are already beyond the point of no return, or precipitously close to it.
Today’s weapons of war and violence are too numerous, accessible, transportable and lethal to allow our continued indulgence in insufficiently mitigated — not to mention intentionally provoked — hostilities. As just one example, it seems highly likely to me that one day, probably soon, armed drones will start flying in from near and far to target perceived enemies inside our own borders.
Playing with matches was never a great idea. But now that we are knee-deep in gasoline (to borrow Carl Sagan’s famous analogy) it is just plain crazy. We need to revolutionize our way of addressing our differences, and reject our worn out, self-destructive communication habits as vestiges of an unilluminated past. It’s time for a new approach.
Achieving Understanding Through Genuine Dialogue
Fortunately, we can construct a pathway out of this precarious dilemma. Rather than avoiding difficult conversations or trying to persuade or force people to our way of thinking, we can learn how to engage each other in productive, non-threatening, highly rewarding dialogue. Instead of dogmatically lecturing each other and trying to control every situation, we can learn to relax, open up, and share our respective ways of seeing things in a sincere attempt to simply understand one another.
Simple understanding, while not always easy to achieve, yields immediate and substantial benefits. Once we understand each other’s views, like toddlers taking their first steps, ensuing stages of engagement follow more readily. The dialogue that enabled us to understand each other’s views now continues with less effort. Doors begin to open that were closed before, potentially leading to more cooperation and increased security, greater creativity and productivity, and enhanced well-being.
Engaging in genuine dialogue does not mean we need to agree with people who have different points of view. It is entirely possible that we will emerge from a dialogue holding the same opinion we had coming in. Our view may even be strengthened. But in any case it will be broadened, and this is one key to the magic of dialogue. How can all sides not be enriched by attaining a more comprehensive view? Once we understand — not agree with but truly understand — the viewpoints of our dialogue partners, all parties will be better prepared to make their respective decisions about how to proceed.
To the degree we learn to value simple understanding and practice authentic dialogue, individually and as a society, our world will change for the better. If we cannot transform the way we deal with our differences, our descent down the slippery slope of continued polarization and increasing hostility will only accelerate, and we all will suffer needlessly for failing to seize this moment and change our ways.
It Starts With Each Of Us
To instigate this transformation, we must first look to our individual selves. There is no sugarcoating the fact that engaging in authentic dialogue with people holding divergent views can be incredibly difficult.
We need to recognize our deeply ingrained instinct to defend and attack, and then learn how to overcome this impulse when it does not serve us. By choosing to set aside our need to control the interaction, we unshackle our attention and free ourselves to listen with genuine curiosity and an intention to understand. The ability to let go of our defensive impulse to control the situation is the indispensable skill we ultimately need to master.
“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”
– Henry David Thoreau
This is the task before us, our primary challenge. The choice to answer this call is each of ours to make.
Once we start making the choice to engage in genuine dialogue in the pursuit of simple understanding, we will soon discover the benefits, even the joy, of opening our hearts and minds to listen to and come to truly understand each other’s views and beliefs, and how they came to be. And, critically, we will find that we also gain a more robust and honest understanding of our own beliefs and motivations.
We are unlikely to arrive at a final destination of fully enlightened interactions with each other, of course. But the rewards for embarking on the journey are nonetheless immense, and they are realized in each and every step we take in this direction.
Where Is The Leadership?
The shift to engaging in genuine dialogue to simply understand each other as the necessary first step in addressing our public differences will require a heroic communal effort. Yes, we must begin with ourselves, but I believe the status of our public discourse and ability to resolve our differences has become so degraded that wise, engaged leadership will almost certainly be required to right the ship.
That is why I find it so disheartening, indeed, reprehensible, that our elected leaders — the very people we should rightfully look to for guidance and support in this challenging quest to engage in genuine dialogue and achieve mutual understanding — are in many cases the worst exemplars of such behavior.
We elect our representatives to bring our diverse views to the table and work through our differences to forge a way forward. This is the way democracy was intended to work. We all see what we get instead. The reality is so far removed from the ideal of reasoned discourse, authentic dialogue and respectful debate that the thought of politicians and elected leaders working together to resolve the momentous issues we face seems a tragically quaint and naive notion.
Why have we not given the practice of dialogue and the pursuit of understanding the prominent place in our education, economy, government and society that they deserve, that we deserve? In 2015 Pope Francis highlighted one aspect of this critical question when he courageously stated that “many powerful people don’t want peace because they live off war.” We need to come to terms with the reasons we are not getting the leadership we long for and so desperately need, and Real Talk Revolution will delve into the complex, controversial politics of this issue.
Real Talk Revolution intends to work closely with likeminded people and organizations to develop and implement a strategy to influence public opinion and lobby for a change in public policy to make the pursuit of simple understanding through genuine dialogue our sanctioned, overwhelmingly preferred, go-to methodology for addressing our differences.