Ok friends, as a reminder, the 4 key elements we need in our difficult conversations, (as mentioned in the last blog,) are:
- Self regulation
- A commitment to a common goal, (and with it, a shift toward “me and you against the problem”)
- Grace that manages the human in front of you separately from that human’s behavior
- Dialogue tools including Reflective Dialogue and The XYZ Formula.
For the sake of this blog series, I’m going to use real comments from real people. However, for our purposes, I’m going to glue a bunch of people together into one to represent the different sides of the conflict at hand.
Your Mission: As you read, your job is to go all Sherlock Holmes and look for the common thread that will help these diametrically opposed people understand one another better.
Right Up the Middle
Let’s go right into one of today’s Hot Button Stereotypes: Pro-COVID Vax, and Anti-COVID Vax.
I present you with Jenny and Marta.
Jenny has decided that she and her family will not be getting the COVID vaccination. Marta and her family are fully vaxxed. I asked each separately what they think of THOSE PEOPLE, who hold the opposite view.
Jenny is pretty outspoken about the COVID vaccine. She believes that the numbers are untrustworthy, and the vaccine has not been adequately tested. She doesn’t trust the government and she’s very uncomfortable about putting a serum into her children’s bodies that might have long-term negative consequences on their health. I asked her what she thought of those who think she should get vaccinated.
“I’m telling you, those people are setting themselves up! When has the government ever looked out for us? This whole thing was overblown by the media because they want us to all fall into line with their liberal agenda. They want us to be a bunch of “sheeple” that they can control!”
Marta is appalled that people are not seeing this pandemic as a serious threat to our survival. She is convinced that people who won’t vaccinate are “stupid” and hate science. She doesn’t understand why they only listen to Fox News and refuse to listen to actual medical authorities. She is furious that so many people have chosen to put us all at risk by not vaccinating.
“I just don’t get it. We insist that our kids are vaccinated against Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Polio and Chicken Pox before they can enroll in school. This virus is a threat right now and they are refusing to vaccinate. I think they are being selfish and stupid. They think there’s some global conspiracy and yet, more than 620,000 people just in the US have now died. Tell the families of those who died that their loved ones died of a hoax!”
Coming to the table
Both Jenny and Marta were taught the self regulation skills mentioned previously. They have agreed that if either holds up a hand at any point, they will both stop talking and take 3 breaths, using whichever of the tools helps them get back in their thinking minds. Here’s how it went, in a nutshell:
Jenny as Sender
As Jenny told her story and Marta reflected back, Marta had to pause the conversation multiple times to self-relate and quiet the screaming inside of her head. Jenny’s world view seemed to paint people who didn’t share her unspoken cultural values not just “wrong” but as “the enemy.”
This could have been a deal breaker for Marta, but the conversation made her more determined to be heard. She wasn’t going to ask Jenny for something she wasn’t willing to give. She chose to look through the things she knew they would never agree on, and focus on trying to understand why Jenny thinks and feels the way she does.
It really paid off!
Marta as Sender
Jenny also had to stop the action several times to breathe and re-calibrate so that she could listen. As she heard Marta’s views, she realized that Marta was probably having at least the same amount of trouble listening to her.
Weirdly though, because Marta had listened, reflected back accurately and offered empathy, she recognized that Marta wasn’t who Jenny had assumed she was. She still totally disagreed with her, but Marta felt more like a real person to her.
Marta’s father had immigrated from El Salvador in the 80’s. Marta admitted that he was illegal at first, which was a hard pill for Jenny to swallow.
However, when Marta explained that her father could have legally applied for asylum immediately, but didn’t know that because he was afraid of having his presence known by the government, (coming from a place where being identified by the government can get you killed instantly,) Jenny softened.
Marta and her family had also worked very hard at hourly labor jobs, and they had received help from multiple organizations that help immigrant families get professional training, housing assistance and programs to support their children academically.
Jenny struggled with this idea. Her family had literally been here longer than the US Government and yet the only assistance they had ever received had left them trapped in poverty.
But Jenny really doesn’t like hypocrisy. She owed it to Marta, as a decent human being, to dig deep beneath the details that Marta shared and imagine how those details made sense to Marta.
Here are your clues to find the common threads:
- Though it doesn’t show in her appearance, Jenny has Native American ancestors. Given the history of her relatives and the US Government, Jenny’s first response to anything centralized is, at best, a fierce skepticism.
- Jenny works two jobs to take care of her family. She is hourly on both and worked through all of 2020 because if she hadn’t, they would have lost everything. She only misses work if she has absolutely no other options.
- Jenny has heard promises from Marta’s preferred political party all her life. Politicians swoop in during election cycles, pretend to listen and to care, but then they change nothing. Jenny and her community continue to struggle.
- Like most of us, Jenny has had a hard time knowing which information to believe and she has heard completely opposite “facts” for many years now.
- Marta comes from a culture that puts a very high value on community, on helping one another, combining resources and knowledge to help everyone do better.
- Marta put herself through college and found a job that would help her pay for her law degree so that she could help other families get away from dangerous countries and become American Citizens. It doesn’t pay much, but her lifestyle is definitely more stable now than in her childhood.
- Marta’s daughter has severe asthma and potentially lethal allergies. Keeping her safe through school all of her life was hard enough, but now, keeping her as safe as possible from contracting COVID has Marta worn thin. She hasn’t slept a full night in about a year and a half.
What do YOU see?
What common threads do you imagine Marta and Jenny found?
Both women love their families deeply. Both are hardworking and dedicated. Both understand not trusting the government. Both are frustrated with the unreliability of health information. Both love their country and want it to be a better place.
Points where they inched closer together:
Marta has made a lot of sacrifices to try to protect her children, especially her daughter who could die if she contracts COVID. Jenny recognizes that she probably feels less concerned about the virus because she managed to keep going to work through all of 2020 without contracting it. She realizes that if one of her kids was in as much risk as Marta’s daughter, she has no idea what she would do: If she stopped working they wouldn’t be able to eat and they would have been evicted when the eviction ban was lifted. At the same time, she certainly couldn’t risk exposing her child.
Marta believes that all families should have the kinds of supports that her family did. She honestly never thought much about those who don’t. She understands why Jenny would feel that resentment, and it pains her that Jenny’s hard work is not enough to give her family stability. Marta would be out of her mind with worry if she lost her income during the shutdown! Marta is starting to understand that Jenny’s conclusions – that the virus is not as severe, prevalent or dangerous as Marta believes it to be – help to protect her from that kind of worry. And really, she does agree that her information sources are often quite unbalanced as well. He still believes they are more reliable as Jenny’s, but her preferred news outlets are just as much in business to make money as Jenny’s. They do seem to capitalize on her fears.
At the end of the day, both women retain their stand on vaccination and virus threats. However, they will both think of the other when they hear those perspectives that previously had them baffled by the other’s stupidity. Neither woman is stupid. Both women love their families and want the best for all.
They wish each other’s families health, protection, and relief.
Are you working on being the change you want to be in the world? Let me know if I can help! Contact Tiffany today.