Start hanging out with people who don’t share your beliefs or lifestyle.
January 1, 2023
Have you been lamenting the divisiveness in our country?
Are you sick and tired of extremists? The folks who place everybody on the ‘other side’ into a bucket labeled Socialist, Nazi, or any derogatory label that makes it impossible to have a conversation with them?
Or have you been one of them?
I humbly admit that if you poke me by challenging my beliefs, especially when I’m directly affected, I can become as narrow-minded as the next guy.
But here’s the deal. If you and I don’t change, how will things improve? If nothing changes, that will be heartbreaking.
If you’re okay with how things are working — vast numbers of people holding each other in contempt — you can stop reading.
However, If you’re interested in expanding your horizons and finding common ground, read on.
Following are three ways you can expand your network to include different voices, different ideologies, and different world views.
Attend a service from a faith tradition unfamiliar to you.
If you grew up in a Christian household, give a Buddhist ‘sit’ a try.
If you’re Buddhist, attend a Baptist or Catholic service — or better yet, attend one of each.
Whether you attend a Quaker, Buddhist, Sufi, Muslim, or Christian service, stay after and hang out for a bit. If there’s a coffee get-together, take advantage of that opportunity to socialize.
And then talk about anything that matters except religion or politics.
Ask questions. What are they passionate about? Do they love their jobs or are they more interested in their side gig? Do they have kids? (Kids are a great way to break the ice — very few parents won’t wax poetic about their kids unless they’re going through puberty — then don’t ask!)
I grew up in a household where my dad favored fundamental, Bible-based, Christian beliefs that were not subject to discussion, challenge, or exploration. My sister and I took classes in Lutheran and Methodist churches when we moved from one city to another, because going to a church on Sunday is what we did.
In my late teens, as I found the different perspectives more and more confusing, I wondered if there was something fundamentally wrong with the idea that there was only one way to live a healthy, decent life — and it depended on who was talking. So, I began to explore various religious orientations.
Ultimately, I leaned toward Buddhism. But what mattered was that my explorations helped me understand and relate to divergent viewpoints.
In every faith orientation, I found people who loved their kids, wanted a better world, and admired creativity, hard work, and honesty.
I learned that people resort to hyperbole, bullying, and violence when afraid or feeling powerless — when they don’t feel heard or are deeply insecure.
I wanted to understand what was driving the fear, and acknowledge it, rather than focusing on the specific content. So I listened a lot.
Once people’s fears are acknowledged, they are often open to other perspectives.
Go to a few open AA or other type of recovery support system groups.
Listen to people’s stories. You may be surprised to hear from surgeons, priests, mothers-in-law, and children who aren’t even old enough to know anything about 9/11.
We tend to have a lot of biases and beliefs about chemically dependent people. And we often pay less attention to process addictions like our 24/7 attachment to our phones, emotional eating, constant talking, impulse shopping, gambling, sex, TV, and unnecessary angry outbursts.
But again, once we meet real people instead of ideating about them in our heads, we find common ground and understanding. We see that we’re not as different as we thought.
I’ve been working with chemically dependent folks for a long time. My takeaway is that we all have struggles and occasionally engage in less than productive self-soothing activities.
If we see our sameness with folks we thought were nothing like us, our ability to recognize our interdependence and the benefits of helping each other out will increase exponentially.
Meet people, not ideologies.
Join a Braver Angels group or watch a few videos of interactions they’ve produced. Braver Angels is an organization created to bring us together.
Their mission is to carry out the words of Abraham Lincoln:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.”
Braver Angels doesn’t accept the extreme polarization in which we’re living as a finality. Instead, they bring people with strongly opposing viewpoints together and teach them how to get to know each other rather than try to convert anyone.
They show people how to engage with those with whom they disagree. Period. An uplifting mission if there ever was one!
Check them out here: Braver Angels.
Be creative — find opportunities to get better at connecting with people, not ideologies. Here are a few more examples:
- If you’re a numbers type, take a pole dancing class and see if you can’t find something in common with others in the class, folks you might have judged.
- If you’re ordinarily uninterested in serious conversations, start one.
- If you don’t have any elderly people in your life, and they make you a little nervous, strike up a conversation in the grocery line or offer to help them load the groceries into their car.
- If you tend to be serious and mature, draw a chalk picture on the sidewalk in front of your home and initiate a conversation with a stranger.
Here’s the point.
Put yourself with people who can expose you to new experiences and ideas.
If you stop congregating with people who look, talk, and act like you, you may discover that people outside your circle are much more interesting than you imagined. Like the homeless guy in the image. I’m thinking he’s got quite a story.
If you’d like to help heal the wounds we’ve created in our world, look for our commonalities rather than differences. Then spread your wings, branch out, and reach out.