When lives are at stake, it can feel counterintuitive—and HARD—to slow down and listen.
In this space dedicated to the restorative power of empathy, I want to talk with you about how to have conversations about geopolitical violence with people we care about when we have different views or come from different positionalities, to try to build bridges of possibility.
Earlier this year, I was in conversation with my practice partner from our group dedicated to disrupting internalized white supremacy culture. He was sharing a challenge he was having with a woman of color in his life, and his views about the situation were quite different from mine. Usually, I might’ve interrupted him and self-expressed in what I imagined was her defense, but because we were intentionally practicing, I stayed with myself but also listened to him, reflected what he was saying to make sure I was understanding him accurately and that he felt genuinely heard, and offered him empathy about the very real dilemma he was in—even though I disagreed with the strategies he was considering. This may sound simple, but it wasn’t easy.
When this part of our exchange felt complete, I said, “I notice a lot coming up for me around what you’re sharing. Would you like to hear any of it?” I was open to hearing no, but generously, vulnerably, he responded that he was scared to hear, but that he did want to hear. I told him I was scared to share what was alive in me, too, for fear of disconnection. With his invitation, though, I was able to honestly share what concerned me, coming from my experiences and perspective. When he reflexively started to respond, I asked if he’d be willing to reflect what I was saying first and offer me empathy, as I had for him. He did. We slowed way down. And we really heard each other. And he felt an opening for a new strategy, as a result.
It was a simple experience, but a deeply profound one for us both. It’s not easy to reflect and empathize before responding when you feel that what you have to say is in defense of the wellness/survival of other people or yourself, but I am trying to remember how important, how effective, and how beautiful that step can be. It’s basic Nonviolent Communication, a practice I’ve lived and taught for nearly twenty years, but I’ve forgotten to take that step in multiple conversations about the violence happening in the world right now, and every time I’ve skipped that step, relationality has been impacted and I’ve regretted it.
I welcome hearing how your heart is doing, and if you try this approach with your loved ones, how it goes. If you’re longing for more support in building these skills and in your life overall, I have an opening for one new weekly and one new biweekly Restorative Empathy client, as well as sessions open for those wishing to do Ancestral Lineage Healing.
Much love and empathy,
P.S. As of October 31 at 11:11 a.m. PDT, the film fundraising auction is LIVE!!!