Reason says, the world is limited in six directions
There is no way out
Love says, there is a way
And I have traveled it many times
I’ve been reading a book titled Shadow Mountain, by Renee Askins, who was a central figure in the wolf restoration project in Yellowstone. One of the biggest hurdles was the forceful resistance of ranchers and others who feared the impact of wolves on livestock. In writing about this standoff, Askins says:
We needed to understand the opposition better by really listening to their concerns. Although many … would call that accommodation, I called it compassion. I really wanted to obliterate the “us against them” model … by recognizing human concerns rather than enemy positions.
I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to put someone in that “them” category, and about the effects of such a label on my willingness and ability to listen. And even when I do listen, I catch myself listening from a perspective that seeks to reinforce my own position, to protect myself from having to question my own assumptions, to avoid having to acknowledge things I’d rather not face.
In other words, I’m not really listening.
Years ago, I was having an intense, emotionally charged argument with someone. I wanted so desperately for the other person to understand my position. What that means is that I wanted the other person to agree with me, to see that I was right. What that means is that I did not want to be seen as the “bad guy” in the situation. The conflict escalated as we continued to state and restate our arguments.
It appeared that there was no way out. We were both reaching exhaustion when I suddenly had what seemed to be an out of body experience. I had the sensation of switching into the other chair, looking through the eyes of the other person, seeing myself and the situation from his perspective. And what I saw shocked me. He was absolutely right. I was making a decision that hurt him deeply. I was indeed the bad guy.
What happened next was that I felt tremendous compassion for him. And for me too. I could acknowledge the impact my decision had on him. And how hard it was for me to face that. We connected through our shared pain.
I wonder how much of our insistence on labeling someone as “them” is about wanting to feel better about “us.” That is very human, isn’t it? And yet all our justifications keep us trapped. Meanwhile, love beckons, whispering, “This way. This is the way out. Follow me.”
Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. ~Mother Teresa