For this episode, I wanted to talk about the state of affairs post-election – but I didn’t want to simply have a conversation about how scary things are over and over. I think that we’ve all had enough of that. I wanted to have an in-depth conversation with someone who could speak to the nitty-gritty details and logistics of it all way more than I could…someone who (preferably) had an inside look into politics, and also (preferably) was in the business of mindfulness. Because in order to change minds and change lives, we can’t speak in vague terms. We need to be able to articulate why exactly things are as terrifying as they are, and we need to be solution oriented and determined to mobilize in a way that works for us.
Like I said last week, what I’ve been doing is trying to pay as close attention as possible and decipher what people need most right now. What is not being talked about. And how I can help.
I knew thatDanielle Beinsteinwould be the perfect person to have this kind of conversation with. Dani is a meditation teacher and astrologer in Los Angeles – and go figure, also has a background in politics! You might remember her fromEpisode Two, which is still one of the most downloaded episodes…so if you haven’t listened to that definitely put it on your to do list.
In this episode, we dive into what’s going on in the country, we explore why exactly this is so terrifying (like, actually break it down, not just get worked up about it being terrifying and get ourselves more and more anxious along with you), what we need to know about the way our government is set up, what astrology has to say about this time in history (it’s mind-blowing), the deal with and danger in “spiritual bypass,” what we can do about it all, and how to talk to those who might have different viewpoints than we do. It’s the perfect episode to air right before Thanksgiving and the holiday season kicks – a time during which you might be spending time with people who not only have different views than your own, but with people you usually don’t have emotional, impassioned conversations with in the first place.
Plus Dani has a fascinating theory on the return of chivalry, and what men’s role is during this incredibly fascinating time. I’m SO pumped about this conversation and know I’ll be listening multiple times to really soak it in. You should, too.
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I don’t need to wax poetic about how I’m feeling right now. I think we all get it. Let’s talk about what’s been helping and what we can do.
I consider myself a pretty open, aware person. I listen with all my senses, I fill in gaps before others know they need filling. I know that disagreement and understanding are two very different things, and I get that my own experiences are vastly different than even my closest of friends.
Which is why, this week, I found myself needing to come to terms with the fact that I had slipped into an unenlightened and, frankly, naive way of thinking: that everyone I knew obviously shared my opinions, and everyone I knew would obviously be as upset as I was.
My wake-up call came while talking to a friend of mine…who happens to be white, happens to be Christian, and happens to be male. Our lunch date began with me in a daze, looking not unlike a character from a slapstick comedy movie who has been turned into a drone or zombie and talks sans emotions, moving perfunctorily through the motions of life. Except it was more like a slap-in-the-face than slapstick moment, and my voice was only monotonous because I was too exhausted from crying and functioning on zero sleep for two nights in a row. I kept saying how horrible it all was, how I couldn’t believe that hateful rhetoric and lack of human decency hadn’t been a deal-breaker for so many people. It’s like building a house with just wallpaper and roof shingles, I said. Without kindness and respect, everything else crumbles. He nodded and unenthusiastically offered up some anecdote about how “we don’t know what he’ll do so we just need to stay hopeful.” So much for the drone: I felt my face starting to fume. I could have breathed fire. It’s not about what he will or won’t do. It’s about the permission slip that’s been granted to people who hate.
I must have been visibly upset, even though my words stayed calm. I tried not to get accusatory or defensive. It’s hard for me to hear you say that, and I know you’re trying to help. But I need to know. Why, I asked, do you not seem as upset about this as I am?
What happened next is where it all turned around. Deep breath in.
“I feel like I can trust you, and you won’t judge me, so I will admit this about myself because I don’t like it: I am having trouble empathizing. And I feel like I am broken because of it. My privilege is so engrained, and if I’m being honest I am the kind of person who is least affected by recent events. I can sympathize for sure. But I…I don’t know how to empathize.
Please help me empathize and tell me what I can do.”
Since then, I’ve been diving deep into how to talk to people who aren’t activist-minded…how to help those who don’t quite internalize it be able to grasp the severity of this situation we’re in. People who are good, GOOD people, but because of whatever their set of engrained experiences or backgrounds or privileges are struggling to feel empathy in this very moment. Sympathy, sure, but empathy is tough.
Of course, because I’m me, I decided to ask around to see what was making the “empathy chip” shut down in some people during these tough times.
I also found that they want to help, but feel like there is no option other than attending a protest or being super engaged on social media – neither of which are up their alley in the first place. Most of all (and most unfortunately), they feel shamed when they ask questions or admit they’re not quite on the same page. How can we expect them to get on the same page if we scold them for not being there in the first place?
People’s minds don’t change until something affects them deeply enough. Unfortunately some people have to see it to believe it when it comes to evil and injustice. We’re seeing it now, and I’m realizing how overwhelmingly many of us are on the same side. More than ever, I think. But we cannot fault people for not getting on board sooner if we don’t take measures to explain why it all matters.
I’m tired of meanness and ultimatums and am ready to help mobilize those who voted indifferently, along with the 46.9% who stayed silent because they thought they couldn’t make a difference, and might just think the same is true for their voice and support in everyday life.
Here’s a list of Dos and Don’t I’ve compiled, from my own experience and those of others, when it comes to talking to people who can’t understand your pain…but want to:
DO share with them exactly why you are scared, angry, or sad. What I found is that the people I’ve spoken with really, truly want to empathize. However, they’re only hearing expressions of rage and anger over and over, which makes it hard for them to not just shut down and disengage. It’s the same reason why people delete their Facebook pages or disavow social media: after a while, the extreme high highs and low lows can become one loud vague noise, and that one loud vague noise can become overwhelming and isolating. Social media was meant to be just that: social. When you explain why you’re feeling the way you are, you back up your feelings with supporting examples. And it’s a lot easier to understand and connect with someone when they explain the WHYs behind their WHATs.
DO invite them in and encourage them to ask questions. It can feel awkward to ask about someone else’s life experiences. You don’t want to come off as ignorant, or patronizing, or just plain dumb. We’ve all experienced it. But we cannot shy away. What we can do to help those who feel shy or awkward diving deep is encourage them to always ask more, and reassure them it’s same and judgement-free to do so. Why does this scare you? What makes you feel strong? What is it like to go through XYZ? Why do you feel called to do/say/be the way you are? The more we understand about one another, the more we realize how much we are truly alike. THAT’S what activates the empathy chip.
DO ask that they relay your reactions and emotions to others – and do it as often as they can. You’ve heard the saying “You are the five people you spend the most time with,” right? Well, by this logic, we mostly run in circles that are closest to our own way of being. Remind others (and yes, remind yourself too!) that they don’t have to attend a peace rally or write an 8-minute-read op-ed on Medium or post incessantly on Facebook to be an ally and advocate (but hey, if you want to read my 8-min-read op-ed on Medium,here you go). The way to spark discussion within apathetic or unaware crowds is not to feign empathy en masse or change the subject entirely, but to relay the stories of those you directly know and love. I told my friend that what would be helpful to me would be to engage in conversations when they arise and outright mention me, along with my feelings/reasons for feeling the way I do. He doesn’t have to fake that he knows what it’s like, but instead of brushing the topic aside or trying to mitigate the moment, it would be helpful if he told a story about his friend, and how and why she was upset, and maybe even how that affected him as a friend. I don’t need him to share in my experience – I just need him to SHARE it. And in sharing, he’s validating it exists and is real and is worth standing up to. Boom. Activism.
DON’T use them as a therapist. I don’t think anyone particularly likes being an involuntary dumping ground for someone else’s emotions. Standing witness to their emotions, of course. But when we talk AT people instead of TO people, no matter the subject, they tend to tune out. And the subjects behind these emotion – racism, sexism, homophobia, violence, environmental dangers, etc etc etc etc – are way, waaay too important to be tuned out.
DON’T shame them for not sharing your viewpoints. Some might argue it’s not a woman/Jew/Muslim/POC/gay/transgender/etc. person’s job to educate those who don’t “get” their struggles – and I do agree that the other person needs to make the first move when it comes to being open to new information. But we’ve GOT to help one another, and shaming someone for their privilege is not the answer. ANYONE can be an activist and an ally. You just need to find what’s right for you – and in this case, sometimes people need help identifying what exactly that is.
DON’T expect it will happen overnight. As much as we’d love things to change instantly when it comes to getting on the same page of ANYTHING – whether it’s drinking green smoothies in tandem or fighting inequality together – big shift takes time. One conversation with your friend, colleague, or family member will not undo years and years of their way of living. But If you keep talking, keep listening, and keep asking questions, you will both awake in ways you never thought possible.
Which reminds me.
DO LISTEN. People hold onto their viewpoints or lack thereof – whatever they may be – for a reason. Whether it was something that happened in childhood or a trigger that lies beneath the surface, no one simply wakes up and decides to live their life, think their thoughts, and feel their feelings out of thin air. This especially goes for those who have the desire to empathize but are not quite there yet. Just because there is a wall up or a mental block doesn’t mean there isn’t gold on the other side of the barrier. We cannot help people listen if we are unable to do the same for them. We say it all the time here on WANT. Dive in. Dig deep. It’s the freaking hard-ass work of life to listen with an open mind and full-as-F heart, but it’s what we must do if we want to ultimately get on the same page and see some shift happen.
I started to come out of the darkness late Friday afternoon. What was a bit of a consolation was thinking about how if art has taught me ANYTHING, it’s that the massive, major changes – not just progress, but actual GOALS reached in mass – come when the pendulum has swung to a very opposite extreme.
So yes, the Now is horrifying. But SO many people are upset about what’s going on in America – liberals, conservatives, the whole spectrum – that I have got to believe this is INEVITABLY going to bring about massive activism and change on a human level. This isn’t about parties or politics. This is about human decency. The first step isn’t empathizing, and the first step isn’t activism. The first step for everyone, the VERY first step, is to be unafraid to ask for help, and even more unafraid to ask what you can DO to help.
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It’s easier to unfriend, unfollow, and tune out when we hear what we don’t want to hear. In an ideal world, we tell ourselves, everyone would share our exact viewpoint. In a perfect universe, we say, we’d all think the same way and want the same things. There would be no war, no strife, no struggle…
The thing is, when we stop listening, we stop connecting. And when we stop connecting, we stop growing.
Urban Confessionalfounder, WANT Man, andformer WANTcast guestBenjamin Mathes travels the world holding up signs that say “Free Listening,” inviting whoever longs to be heard (which is really all of us, isn’t it?) an ear and an open heart to be able to do so.
But Ben doesn’t just stand on any corner and offer free listening. Nope – *in addition to* standing in front of your normal boardwalks, parks, and busy streets, Ben and Urban Confessional actively seek out the places where anger and fear might be the emotions running the show. Last week, Benrecounted his experienceat the Republican National Convention – not to sway anyone’s political views (or even get political at all), but as a reminder that disagreement is no excuse not to love. Because sometimes, we forget that all people need is an ear to tell their story. Here’s his:
She was just staring at me.
She had something to say, and I could tell she was curious about the Free Listening sign, but she didn’t seem to have to courage to speak to me.
So, I waited. Nowhere to be, and all day to get there.
It was so hot outside.
Finally, she walked up, and like a young warrior preparing for battle, she said:
“I don’t usually do this, and I know this isn’t a hot button topic anymore… But, I think abortion is wrong. It’s not a form of birth control, and people who have them should be arrested for murder.”
Most protesters at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland were yelling about Donald Trump—for or against—all part of this beautiful circus of free speech.
She was different. There was no circus here. She was serious.
I had been Free Listening at the RNC for a few hours, and most people who spoke with me told me about their families, their jobs, and the things that brought them to Cleveland.
No one had opened up about a serious, but controversial issue.
But here she was.
It was so hot outside.
Lets face it, it’s loud out there. It seems like everyone has something to say and somewhere to say it.
Our Facebook feeds are littered with articles, posts, and images from all types of people. For some of us, this is difficult to handle, so we edit out the ones we disagree with until our feed looks more like an echo board our of own thoughts.
If we’re not careful, we’ll treat people this way. Editing out the one’s we disagree with until we’re surrounded by people who are just like us.
Then we wonder why we’re so divided.
I know what you’re thinking, though: “It’s my feed, I’ll block who I want. I shouldn’t have to be offended. I don’t have time for that. Life is too short. I only want to see what I want to see.”
If we’re not careful, we’ll treat people this way.
Then wonder why we’re so divided.
If there’s one question I get asked more than any other question, it’s this: How do I listen to someone when I disagree with them?
There are many ways to answer this. It takes a lot of forgiveness, compassion, patience, and courage to listen in the face of disagreement. I could write pages on each of these principles, but lets start with the one thing that makes forgiveness, compassion, patience, and courage possible.
We must work to hear the person not just the opinion.
When someone has a point of view we find difficult to understand, disagreeable, or even offensive, we must look to the set of circumstances that person has experienced that resulted in that point of view.
Get their story, their biography, and you’ll open up the real possibility of an understanding that transcends disagreement.
Like the roots of a tree, our stories, which can create our beliefs, are completely unique, and also connected. It is through story that we can find common ground enough to co-exist in the face of great, often necessary, tension.
When you find yourself in disagreement, just ask one question:
“Will you tell me your story? I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”
As she spoke to me about her beliefs on abortion, I wanted to stop her, and tell her my story.
I’ve sat with two loved ones as they suffered through the difficult decision and consequences of ending a pregnancy. It was a brutal human experience, and gave me an insight to something I never expected to witness.
In moments like that, “choice” doesn’t seem to be the right word.
So, when she told me they should be arrested for terminating a pregnancy, the familiar burn of disagreement started to fire in me.
There were so many things I wanted to say. I wanted to change her mind, to argue, to disagree. Its a natural response.
But, if my story brought me to my beliefs, then I needed to know how her story brought her to her beliefs.
“When you listen, you may learn something new” — Dali Lama
So, I asked:
“Thank you for sharing that. Tell me your story? I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”
She seemed surprised by my interest.
“Why? It doesn’t matter. You’re sign said Free Listening, so I gave you something to listen to.”
“Give me more to listen to.”
“They should be locked up! It’s wrong. It’s not right to go out and sleep with who ever, then just vacuum away the result like it never happened.”
She paused…then inhaled the entire world.
“And it’s not fair. All I’ve ever wanted to be is a mom. My whole life, I knew I was meant to have children. Then, when I was 18—18!–the doctor told me I’d never have children. My ovaries were damaged, or missing…it doesn’t matter which. I kept it a secret, and when my husband found out, he left me. I’m alone, my body doesn’t work, I’m old…who will ever love me…”
I wondered if she could hear my heart breaking.
“…so, I guess I get upset when I see people who can get pregnant, who can have kids, who’s bodies work…who can be moms…and they just choose not to…”
Sometimes, there’s nothing to “disagree” with.
I didn’t need to be right.
I just needed to be there.
She wiped away a few tears, gave me a hug, and thanked me for listening.
She exhaled, and walked back into the RNC circus.
Maybe one day, she’ll hear my story. But today, it was my turn to hear hers.