Our post-election Town Hall on Sunday, November 8 included a conversation about shared values: Who wouldn’t want good schools? Who wouldn’t want good health care or clean air and water? Who wouldn’t want safe neighborhoods and good jobs? Given the cut-off of many friendships and even within families, the question is: how can we learn to speak to one another, especially if we have differing views of the many issues that lie before us. We spoke about the Jewish values that can guide us, “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind,” “Justice, Justice shall you pursue,” “Love your neighbor as yourself” and others. To say this work is difficult is an understatement. No wonder our values are not optional but commanded.
Following the Town Hall, I began to think about the conversation and realized that we all have a way within reach to bridge the gap.
I was trained in marital counseling using a program called Prepare and Enrich. A large focus of it is on communication and key to that work, in my mind, is an exercise in which one of the partners shares a wish about the other partner using assertive language and the second partner is to be an active listener. Being an active listener can be difficult. It entails using one’s own words to repeat accurately what the speaker said; to really demonstrate that you heard. Speaking assertively – clearly, succinctly, using “I” statements but not being aggressive – can also be difficult.
I invite you to think of a difficult conversation you have recently had; a conversation in which you and the other party cannot hear each other, whether political or not. Now picture this: imagine starting with an “I” statement and following with an emotive word to express what you are trying to say. In other words, “I feel scared when…” “I’m sad that…” “I respect you when…” It is non-accusatory language. It is honest. It is a bit vulnerable. It just may open the door to a true dialogue.