Defy The Trend
in Change Leadership - Social Justice - Yoga & Church

Is Agreeing to Disagree Enough?

This post is the third in a series exploring the practice of Drishti (focus on a particular point, traditionally in meditation or yoga poses). In light of the extremely heated political and social debate occurring around the nomination and confirmation of Brett Kavanagh to the U.S. Supreme Court, I thought I’d relate Drishti to that conversation.

When I was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school I spent a lot of time talking on the telephone. I know – Shocking! After school work, activities and family dinner were over, I would wind the long cord of the telephone from the kitchen through the hallway and into my bedroom where the phone would barely reach so that I could close the door. (I was a child of the 80s after all.) My best girlfriend and I would have 2-3 hour conversations late into the evening. We talked about the boys we liked, what we’d wear to dances and our hopes and plans for our future. Conversations also turned to weightier topics and political issues — abortion, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights and other matters that cropped up on the news and in our Catholic high school. Politically speaking, we didn’t agree about much of anything.

Weeks and weeks passed with both of us leaving those heated late-night phone debates frustrated and even angry. I probably found it difficult to reconcile how my best friend, who I liked and respected and who grew up under relatively similar circumstances as I, could see the world so differently.

Finally, after going through argument after argument, we came to an understanding — We were both right. What we did, without entirely knowing it, was let go of our need to have the “right” or “correct” argument. We let go of the notion that we were going to change the other one with our principled arguments. We basically agreed to disagree. This posture has served us well into adulthood — more than 20 years later, we are able to have conversations in which we disagree, listen to each other’s ideas, even if we don’t entirely change our individual positions.

I learned so many valuable lessons from these arguments with my friend that have served me well into adulthood. Most of the time, I have the ability to listen to people, even ones with whom I disagree vehemently. My early training as a journalist honed this listening ability. Going to college and graduate school in very diverse environments taught me even more about listening to those with different worldview and values. My yoga practice has equipped me with techniques for leaning into uncomfortable thoughts and emotions.

After this past weeks challenging conversations around gender, sexual assault and authority, I’m wondering if agreeing to disagree just isn’t cutting it in the cultural and political climate in which we live. Reading this Washington Post article this past weekend about two next-door neighbors in Nebraska (my home state) who are struggling to maintain a friendship through difficult and painful conversations around their political differences, made me wonder what the next step for me, for my neighbors, for this country might be.

So I’m drawing on the wisdom of the yogic practice we have been blogging about this fall. Drishti — at its most basic — is a point on which a person focuses in yoga movement or in meditation. Staring at one point can bring mind and body into stillness, enabling a connection to something greater than ourselves. I learned recently in a yoga teacher training that Drishti can also be practiced as an expansive vision — teaching yourself to see panoramically, the big picture.

I’m beginning to believe that this point in our cultural lives may demand that we lean into, even more deeply, the pain, the anxiety, the outright fear, each of us is experiencing so that we may connect our higher selves. We experience our own stuff first, sifting through the feelings to discover why each of our most cherished values and beliefs seem to be threatened in this era of history. We may need to look back to our formative experiences in order to understand our blind spots. Listening deeply to our own pain, I hope, would enable us to listen to the pain of others. We may come to understand how we are causing pain to our friends, neighbors, family, even strangers with our seemingly principled actions.

Here’s a Drishti practice that I’m inviting you to do this week: Take 5-10 minutes of quiet time to yourself and focus on the bit of news that is causing you the most pain, anxiety, frustration or anger. Sit with the emotions that rise up for at least 90 seconds. Let the hot edge of the feelings subside. Then, think and feel into why those feelings are so strong in you. Do these feelings relate to a strongly held belief that is being offended? What life experience formed that belief for you? Do you need to listen to other people’s experiences or perspectives in order to see and feel the bigger picture? If so, find a person in your life who embodies that unfamiliar experience. Ask them for lunch or coffee and tell them that you want to hear their story and that you won’t interrupt them. As their story winds down, ask only clarifying questions without offering an opinion or judgement.

If you take up this challenge, please tell me in the comments what the experience was like. Maybe together we can figure out what Phase 2 of “Agreeing to Disagree” might look like.

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