A new man awaits to be born

The preparation for the 4th class of the Effective Conversations course is difficult for me.

I sit in the living room with Eli and share my plans for tomorrow’s class. “I want us to learn how to see reality from other perspectives, get into their shoes,” I say.

When we understand that everyone is a hero in their own eyes, everyone believes themselves to be good and moral – we can understand them better. Yes, even terrorists. They don’t see themselves as terrorists. They see themselves as freedom fighters. They believe they have to save the world from colonialism and their people from the occupation and injustice. If we can see the reality from their eyes, from their perspective, get into their shoes, we will see ourselves in them. We will see that we hold on to the same unresolved issues they have because they are a reflection of ourselves. If we can be compassionate to them, if we can listen deeply, they will drop their guard, feel safe, feel heard, their suffering and resistance will decrease. The conflict may turn into a deep heart to heart conversation.

As our conversation goes on, we start to talk about white supremacy, and in particular menwho don’t respect women. How on Earth can we see the world from their eyes? I realize it is very hard for me. I’ve come across a new trigger. “The growth path never ends,” I say, smiling, to Eli. I take a moment to adjust emotionally and ask Eli if he can channel one of those chauvinistic men. For the sake of this exercise let’s say someone like Trump, what would his thoughts be? Why from his perspective are women less than men?

I ask him to imagine himself as… “No need,” he says, “I can easily get into this role.”

“I would not call myself a white supremacist. I’m just a real man, maybe a bit old-fashioned, a rational man. And, I wouldn’t say I disrespect women, I would say that there is a difference between men and women that our modern society is trying to eliminate. Feminism and equality are wrong concepts that disrespect the differences. Men have lost their masculinity and women have lost their femininity over this attempt to flatten the differences. That, in turn, caused lots of problems in our society: high divorce rates, loss of passion, more confusion of the gender roles at home and in work environments and more LGBTQI+ people.

“Women should do what they always did, raise kids, look after the household, cook for the family, support their husbands and take care of their appearance. Men should do what they are good at, lead and be strong, provide for and protect their family. This is just common sense and what has always worked. Women that focus on having a career neglect their family, abandon their kids who miss out on education and lose attachment to their mothers, and that’s also a problem.” 

“What about sexual harassment?” I ask.

 “I don’t justify that, but there is a lot of grey area there. Some women use sexual harassment to hurt and manipulate their bosses that don’t give them a raise. If a woman advances her own agenda using sexual innuendo and behaviour and then changes her mind, sues the man and says it was sexual harassment – that’s unfair as well.”

I feel myself tightening. I take a deep breath and take a look inside. An old fear surfaces. I was always afraid to be weak, to be seen as a sexual object, to be taken advantage of, to be dependent on a man. I never felt safe in the world. I felt that the world was not a safe place for women. I could never get rid of this deep belief.

I wanted to look good, and I wanted to be wanted as a woman, but not for my body alone, not without my soul and my qualities being seen. This “game” is confusing for so many women that find it hard to balance the seemingly contradicting needs. 

Eli sees that it’s not easy for me to hear that and he reminds me that those are not his opinions. He reminds me how much he is proud of me for doing this work for the world and that I’m so much more courageous than him by putting myself into all those conflicts. He can’t do that.

It helps me loosen up. I can see now from a “real man’s” perspective why they believe they need to be strong at all costs. Providing for their family gives them meaning, a reason to live. Everyone needs to be needed, appreciated and important. It’s the safety from which men can go hunt and take risks. It’s the primal brain of the hunter. But, things weren’t so simple, and that balance never worked well. Unfortunately, men oppressed women throughout history. Women were murdered, raped, abused, used, controlled, shut down, ridiculed, and burnt at the stake.  Women have had to endure so much suffering and trauma. We treated Mother Earth in the same way. Her giving nature is endless and her ability to create life is diminishing at an alarming rate. Mother Earth is not herself anymore. Nature needs to recover. 

Oppressing women throughout history has brutally deprived women of their true feminine nature and power. Women can’t be soft, accepting and loving unconditionally any more. Mother Earth cannot be nutritious and abundant as she once was. The more this happened, the fewer women were able to truly love and accept the men for who they are, instead, they were met with a fearful gaze.  Men could not feed their souls at home anymore and in turn, became even more aggressive, took forcefully what they believed to be theirs, to fulfil their needs. But, those needs were never truly fulfilled. They were left empty and ashamed of what they did, and never processed the guilt that caused this cycle to get worse and worse. It pushed men to go to war, to accumulate more, to consume more, to take advantage of natural resources, run after status symbols and be as powerful as they can, stepping on anyone that got in their way.

The feminist revolution wanted to fix the inequality, the unfairness, put an end to the suffering and bring women back to their power. However, since the game we played for so long was built by men and for men (the game of needing money to survive and thrive, the linear success that pushes to have more than we need and nothing seems enough), women were doomed to fail. Women fell victim to that game as well. We did our best to fit into this war-zone society, develop successful careers, be part of the decision making so we feel acknowledged, safe and respected. We only fit in if we became men. And maybe that’s what the “real man” is talking about when he doesn’t like career women. I can see the importance of our differences.

I remember myself as a little girl wanting to be a man. I hated my feminine body. I had a terrible period-pain, and I tried to hide my emerging breasts. Unconsciously, I resisted being a woman. I just didn’t want to be weak. My unconscious thought was “If I am weak I’ll be raped. No way!” Unsurprisingly, I was a tomboy. In elementary school, I wanted to do only what the boys did, at middle school I learned martial arts and fought only against boys that were two heads taller than I was. I trained hard to be appreciated for my physical power and went to the gym to have my muscles show. I was proud of the bruises that I got from fighting at the dojo, for strengthening my bones. Is this Feminism? Equality? That was what I thought back then.

If you were to know me today, you wouldn’t believe that I was like that. It took me more than a decade to unwind these deep-rooted beliefs about women and appreciate my femininity. Only from this honest acceptance of myself could I do what I do today. I can go into all those difficult conversations and conflicts, hold space for hurt souls to express themselves and explore their emotions, biases, traumas, cry and shed their old patterns of the past. I can see them through the walls they created to protect themselves, where they lost the connection with their hearts. I’m the mom they never had, the one that “should have” loved them unconditionally.

A society that truly understands the power of femininity appreciates the feminine traits of softness, compassion, intimacy, vulnerability, sharing, cooperation, expressing, feeling, motherhood.  It would be a society where women empower men and men empower women and we cherish our differences for the greater good of all. Women’s natural traits are the best “weapon” to balance the anger, greed, control, helplessness, cold-minded rationality and self-destruction that is so prevalent in our current society. Men today have lost their way, they have been detached from their feelings, stuck in a loop of having more and never having enough, running after empty success to the extent of self-destruction and the destruction of Earth itself. They are desperate to be held and seen.

A new man awaits to be born, one that will have no need to repress women and other living beings to meet his needs. He will protect Mother Earth for he knows in his heart her true value and the value of all life on our planet. He will be more powerful than ever, connected to his heart and his vision, motivated by wholeness, he will see the whole picture, this the leader we all wish for. 


If you liked this, follow me on Twitter. I teach people how to talk about hot topics without exploding or shutting down.

@yaelfiner

Depolarization

Our world is becoming more and more polarized and I’ve been looking for ways to help bridge the gaps. I hope you find what I’ve discovered useful.

Communication challenges

I interviewed more than 45 people on how they think and talk about hot topics from all sides of major conflicts. I talked with anti-vaxxers and pro-vaxxers, top environmentalists, loggers, Trump supporters, chiropractors, healers, Millenials, Christians and more. Most of the challenges I heard were about the difficultly to express our truth, to be heard, to be respected, to be ourselves around people who hold different opinions. I heard about the difficulty to continue a conversation after being labelled – as an environmentalist, as an anti-vaxxer, a Trump supporter, a conspiracy theorist.

I heard from people being ghosted for saying the wrong thing and from people doing the ghosting. A lot of the people I talked to fear conflict so much they avoid those they love and care for because of a difference in opinion on a juicy topic. I heard stories of friends losing respect to each other, judging each other and their intelligence and losing all interest in having any further conversation. Ken’s story of “breaking up” with his friend over a vaccination disagreement is a powerful example of this.

Better ways to talk

Throughout this, I’ve been collecting tools and techniques to de-escalate the conversations. I looked at the ways we get emotionally triggered and techniques that could help us avoid that. I observed my own deeply rooted biases and those of other people. I saw how these biases push us towards conclusions that only partially represent the truth. I discovered ways in which we can become more objective by bringing these biases to light.

I also inserted myself into many conversations online to see if these techniques actually work. One of them started with “Bitch!” and ended with “sincere apologies”.You can read about the full process in an article I published.

Effective conversations

Over time, these techniques formed into a method that I’ve been calling “Effective Conversations”. My goal is to help people move away from “us vs. them” and “who’s right and who’s wrong” type of thinking to a place of deep listening and actual solutions.

Effective conversations are the ground for healing our isolation and mental health crisis; for eliminating the illusion of separation that causes us to fight with each other; and for healing our sick world. It’s also the only way to find solutions that work for everyone.

I’m now teaching the first Effective Conversations online course with a small group of people. Let me know if you’re interested in joining one of the future groups.

So, who else should I talk to?

I’d like to interview even more people to get a broader understanding of the conflicts we face. Who should I talk to? Who’s got strong opinions and can’t stop talking about them? Please forward them this text.

Love,

Yael

Follow me on Twitter @yaelfiner for more juicy conversations.


If you liked this, follow me on Twitter. I teach people how to talk about hot topics without exploding or shutting down.

@yaelfiner

Engaging for Change

Contributed by Andrea Diaz

When I read Hemal’s initial tweet, my alarm bells went off.  I immediately jumped into a defensive and judgemental state of mind, “who the hell does this guy think he is?”, “he’s just another angry man with opinions and a keyboard”. I felt aggravated that this random man would call my friend a “bitch” and try to shame her sexuality as a way of getting his point across. Clearly, he wanted a reaction, he wanted a fight and I’m so proud of Yael (@yaelfiner) for not fuelling the fire.  I know if this was me I would have either not engaged with this man or I would have reacted emotionally and caused more harm than good.  

As I read on and I saw how Yael had responded to this man, I couldn’t help but be very impressed.  There was no sign of emotion “I won’t take it personally” (therefore not adding fuel to the fire), and there was a genuine concern and willingness to listen and learn.  His replies to her were what really blew me away.  Instead of insulting her again, he actually had some important and valuable things to say.  He was able to inform Yael (and everyone reading) the realities of living in Africa and the impact on divesting from fossil fuels will have on African nations.  This is where the learning begins, this is where solutions can be formed, this is the point of depolarization. 

With the right question, Yael had allowed the space for this man to express his views on the issue.  It became apparent the struggle he faces and the fear he feels about an uncertain future for his homeland.  You can hear the frustration in his words towards the lack of understanding the West has in regards to the reality of this issue.  The frustration of the West not taking responsibility for the global problems it has caused, and the lack of interest in helping developing nations out of this problem. His words made me think deeper about renewable energy and how even in what is a ‘global’ crisis, there is inequality in resource distribution for clean energy.  

In concluding their conversation when Yael asks what he believes the solution to be, his answer is simple, “All rich countries should Invest in Africa in renewable energy with long term loans”.  He actually agrees that renewable energy is the way to go but it will take the help of the West to achieve this.  In the end, I agree with him, that developed nations should be allies of Africa and other developing countries in getting access to renewable energy so that the world can begin to curb its reliance on fossil fuels. This is a global problem, requiring global solutions.  This discussion needs to include more voices from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Island nations so we understand the full spectrum of what is to come regarding divergence from fossil fuels.  

This Twitter discussion came a long way from where it started.  What began as an explosion of aggression and frustration, ended in an informative and thought-provoking discussion.  It is a testament to Yael for maintaining a level head and being able to steer the conversation in a way that invited this man to open up to his truth and to share that in a more impactful way.  Had Yael chosen not to engage, we would have missed this opportunity to learn a little bit about the reality of life in Africa, and how our decisions impact the lives of others on the other side of the world. Had Yael chosen not to engage, we would have left believing that this was just another angry person on the internet, and would have never had a chance to hear his legitimate concerns and intelligent argument around renewable energy.   

As I finished reading the conversation, I left with a feeling of gratitude, curiosity and determination.  Gratitude for Yael for her courage in pursuing this conversation in a constructive way.  Curious to learn more about the struggles of developing nations in regards to this climate crisis and determination to do better and to support organizations that promote sustainability and global equality in the best way I can.  Thank you, Hemal for sharing your thoughts and views.  Thank you for bringing to light an issue many of us in the West are unaware of. 

You can also read Yael’s own perspective on this conversation.


If you liked this, follow me on Twitter. I teach people how to talk about hot topics without exploding or shutting down.

@yaelfiner

He called me a bitch! What would you do?

How should we deal with emotional and toxic people on social media? Should we just discard the conversation? Should we engage in it and try to explain our views to those people? Should we explain to them why they are wrong? What would you have done? 

A lot of our communication around what’s going on in the world is done over social media. We read our news feeds, we read other people’s responses to articles, tweets, FB posts and so on. Sometimes we take the risk to engage in conversations ourselves. The risk is mainly emotional, we fear of being attacked or misunderstood. We usually choose to avoid our difficult emotions and conflict with others. Sometimes the risk is professional: we don’t want to be seen as part of any group or side, because we are afraid to lose customers.

I engaged in a heated conversation on Twitter about a tweet Greta Tunberg wrote (link):

I was truly asking Jerry for his perspective and didn’t expect to get this extreme response:

Oooh, that hurt.

I felt misunderstood, my heart started beating faster. My ego was crying out for justice.

I was eager to respond.  In my mind, if I would just explain to him how he was so wrong… and who did he think he was to call me a bitch? He didn’t know me at all!

I took a deep breath.

And then another one.

And another one.

In the space created between one breath to the other, I cooled down a bit. I could think clearly again. I thought “This guy is very upset. Trying to explain to him how much he is wrong probably won’t be very useful.” “Bitch,” I thought, smiling to myself. Tzephora Berman, the veteran environmental activist, told me she’s been called an eco-terrorist. That’s one way to measure you are doing something meaningful!

I could stick to being hurt and misunderstood, but instead, I asked myself what is important to me right now. To be right? Or, to learn something new? I decided to try and learn something from this conversation. I wanted to learn more about this guy and why he was against Greta and the Climate action. 

That was all that he needed to calm down. He turned out to be a very intelligent man. A conversation had started. I learned about the difficult life in Africa, why he seemed to support the Oil and Gas industry and why he was so angry.

He explained:

It was like he was just waiting to be asked. He was eager to share his understanding and views. I was so happy to hear the deeper truth underneath the anger and hate. At this point, I had my own set of thoughts like whether renewable energy really was more expensive. I could do some online research, to check and counter his arguments, but I decided not to. It’s not important if it’s the absolute truth or if I agree or disagree with what he said. It’s not important now, because I wanted to hear more, learn more, understand deeply what is important to him and not waste this opportunity on debating facts.

The conversation was eyes opening. He offered his solution to Africa’s problems:

The solution he put forward was so simple, clear and straightforward. Rich countries that have damaged the planet for decades should support poor countries to have a decent life. I love it!

Now, pay close attention here. He was attacking me on Greta’s thread saying fossil fuels are here to stay, and it’s wrong for Africa to divest from them. But, after he had a chance to express himself and felt heard, he actually wanted renewable energy! He believed this was the long term solution for Africa!

Many times, we disagree with each other on a superficial level yet agree when we dig a little deeper. We started to exchange emails. Hemal had opened up to me, apologized for the insults and wrote:

Please accept my sincere apologies for the insults and whatsoever offended you. I have been through your website briefly and I am impressed by your analysis and thoughts and posts which are very informative, advocative for the truth and effectively perceives the reader and make the reader believe that still the world is a marvellous place and still there is kindness.”

Hemal felt heard and was willing to read what I write about. He was willing to listen.

What had happened?

When people get a chance to express themselves fully and are able to vent their frustrations, they end up in a different place emotionally. They have shifted from a FULL state to an EMPTY state. They are able, and many times want, to listen to you too. They drop their defences and want to get to know you as well. 

This is a fertile ground for real solutions to emerge, solutions that work for everyone.


If you liked this, follow me on Twitter. I teach people how to talk about hot topics without exploding or shutting down.

@yaelfiner

He wins the conversation but not my heart

A conflict resolution between Trump supporter dad and his socialist daughter.

Maya is twenty-eight years old and has a long history of disappointments and a “full belly”* where her dad is concerned. He is conservative, a Trump supporter, economy-oriented, and an information consumer. She is socialist and concerned with social dynamics. For years, their relationship has suffered from their miscommunication. And now she is on the verge of giving up on him completely.

For the last several years, she has been getting familiar with her inner world, trying out living communities to see what that’s like, and hoping to see a better world fueled by cooperation, shared living, and caring for each other. When I talked with her, she was already in a process of deepening her relationships and speaking her truth more. It has worked with everyone but her father. “No, my dad is a lost cause,” she says, convinced. “He is a narcissist, closed-minded, selfish, facts-oriented, very bad listener. He is like a running train that rolls over anything that stands in its way. I even believe he is not normal; something is deeply wrong with him.”

Is he aware of that, I wonder? “No, he believes he is a great dad. He is ‘old school’ and believes in traditional success. He wants me to thrive, get a career, make lots of money, be successful, and of course get married and have children. He’s worked hard all his life to provide for his family. He was never educated. He started with just a few dollars in his pocket, and he made a successful business all by himself. It worked for him. Therefore he believes that I should do the same.”

And what do you believe? “Oh Yael, I can’t avoid the feeling that we are so different! I can’t understand how a person I am so close to biologically can be so far from me emotionally. It hurts so much to be so alienated from him—I want to avoid that feeling! I do everything to avoid him. I even stopped answering his calls, but he keeps calling me and asking why I’m avoiding him. You see, he will never stop,” she says helplessly.

What happens when you do talk? “He talks over me, preaches to me. He says what he wants no matter what. He doesn’t notice me or how I feel, and he won’t stop talking even when I plead with him. He reads a lot and has lots of facts stored in his mind. I can’t win. I give up. He aggressively wins the conversation, but he doesn’t win my heart.” 

What would you want to happen in your conversations? “I want him to listen. I want him to know the truth. To get to know more about community living, to know that there are better systems in the world.” Why? What will happen if he learns that truth, I ask? She slows down to take a deep breath and reflects, “I want him to be more like me, so I can feel closer to him. I would be less alone in the world.” 

Maya has struggled with feelings of inadequacy all her life. She never felt okay. She never felt good enough for her parents, and every interaction with them takes her back to these old, painful experiences. One sentence from her father could trigger these feelings and cause her to stay in bed for hours to process her emotions until she felt safe again to return to the outside world. “The harder I tried to be okay,  to be good, to please, to be loved, the worse I felt about myself. I don’t want that anymore; I’m better off alone. I want to build my own family made up of like-minded people where I can be myself, speak my truth, and feel loved for who I am.” 

I wanted to hear Maya’s father’s side of the story, and I asked permission to speak with him. He agreed right away and called me a few hours later. As she had described him, he is very talkative and can easily come across as aggressive. It was very important for him to share his whole life philosophy and opinions with me. He spoke on why politics are so important and why Maya has to know all that. That was July 2020, just a few months into the beginning of the pandemic and BLM.

So he starts: “I vote for the liberals because they understand the economy. I don’t like Trump and his dirty mouth, but he is doing a lot of good things for the US. The problem is there’s no equality in the media. You can’t be right-wing in this country; the left doesn’t let you talk. It has gotten to a very bad place now. You are not allowed to be liberal. It’s anarchy (BLM). They want to defund the police now! They are violating human rights, breaking into shops, causing huge (financial) damage. There is a huge turn in our society.” He talks with anger, but I hear the pain that lurks beneath it.

He goes on, “I know I’m right because I watch Fox News, and they bring people from the right wing and from the left wing to debate. They hold a wide perspective, they do a good job investigating for their shows. I watched CNN, CBS, ABC, and MSNBC news sometimes, but they are all twisted, and they spread fake news. All they do is try to make Trump lose his position, talk about his dirty mouth and his private life, but they say nothing else. They don’t bring any other news. The media is biased.”

What happens when you talk with Maya about that and share what you’ve learned on the news? “She isn’t interested in talking and isn’t willing to listen. I can’t convince her. She is not objective, she doesn’t listen to facts, she listens to Alexandra Cortez and Ilhan Omar. They are stupid millennials who don’t know anything about how the world functions.” Now he sums up his philosophy in very clear and short sentences: “For income, you have to work. To live, you need money. This is a basic life principle that she doesn’t get. If the economy falls, we will all fall and suffer greatly.”

What about the climate? I know Maya is concerned about that; do you agree on that? “I agree that there’s a climate problem that we need to do something about. Everyone knows that, but you can’t do it from 0 to 100 in a day. Change takes time. The green movement opinions are not based on facts. If we stop using fossil fuels tomorrow, we will be in a deep shit.”

What do you want to change in your conversations with her, I ask him? “I want her to listen to facts; I want her to read serious news. But she will never do that. She shuts me up and says, ‘Dad, let’s not talk politics.’” Why do you want her to listen to your facts? “I think it will be good for her—it will widen her perspective.”

Then he adds, “I worked hard all my life so I can send her to university, so she can succeed in life, but the leftist professors there changed her opinions and told her their un-facts-based views, and now she doesn’t listen to me anymore.” We ended the conversation.

————————————————–

I felt this man’s deep pain, helplessness, and anger. If he knew how to express his feelings, he would say: I gave her everything I could, I did my best, and she chose the professors over me. I’m angry, left out of my family, neglected, alone. I was the father, the head of the family, I had a meaning, I was important. My money was needed. Now she doesn’t need me anymore. 

From his perspective, he is doing everything to be objective, to see the big picture and to watch balanced news and deliver his daughter the important information about the world. She is the one who can’t listen, doesn’t read, doesn’t know, and is closed-minded. He fails to listen to her deep needs. She doesn’t care about politics or Trump; she is in a deep spiritual process of being independent, finding meaning, being okay with the way she is, and she wants him to respect her for her life choices. She wants him to see her and her growth, her path, her struggle, to see how independent and wise she has grown.

When I look closely, I see that they are not really arguing—they are talking about different things. He is saying we can’t live without money, and she agrees with that. She is saying the way we live today is not optimal, and we need to live in a more community-wise way, but he doesn’t respond to that. He reacts to what she says because it translates in his mind as opposing everything he is. If money is unimportant, everything he is and does is unimportant. It’s a deep and unconscious connection between money and self-worth that many of us are trapped in.

Since Maya’s university days, the power dynamic has changed between them. She doesn’t need his money anymore, but he needs her attention. However, she still needs him—she needs his validation that she is okay. 

Her father is unaware that he wants her to listen to him so badly because it is his only way to regain his lost respect. They both long to be listened to, to be heard. To be heard is to be loved. To be heard means to have a safe place in the world. To be validated. When you are heard you feel close, connected.

I call Maya and tell her, You are speaking different languages. He doesn’t know how to express his feelings, but the anger and impatience you hear in his voice is coming from a deep, lonely place of losing you because you reject what he is desperately trying to say. And it’s important for him to share his knowledge because this is his way to be important in your life. I explained to her that she reacts to everything he says because she hears that she is not good enough and not because of what he said.

A few days later, she called me and delightedly shared, “I was able to express my feelings to him for the first time in history! I told him, When you ask me what’s new, I feel stressed. I have nothing new to say that will make you happy. I’m lying down in my bed for the last few hours, and that’s something you can’t appreciate. I feel I’m disappointing you and that I’m not good enough for you. This is why I’ve been avoiding talking with you.”

Her father said, “I didn’t mean that, I really wanted to ask how you are feeling. I never meant to make you feel guilty or to cause you discomfort. I love you.”

They are still very different, consume different news, interested in different lifestyles, and a good world is a different concept for each of them. And yet, something new is happening here, an exciting possibility to embrace their differences as part of a whole, to connect on a deeper level, beyond their political views. To be heard and be validated, to be needed and whole.

_____________________

* A “full belly” is an Hebrew expression saying we hold lots of unprocessed emotions, hurt, unsaid things and trauma in our bellies.


If you liked this, follow me on Twitter. I teach people how to talk about hot topics without exploding or shutting down.

@yaelfiner

Lost a friend to vaccination

“What do you do?” Ken asked me.  I explained to him that I research how people communicate and think about ‘hot topics’ because the polarization between groups of people in society is getting worse and so many people are losing relationships and family connections over disagreements. He said “OMG! Yael you nailed it, people are so emotional and you just can’t talk to them!”

Ken is in his mid-40’s, a successful businessman, smart, charming, has been practising mindfulness for many years and is a strong believer in vaccinations. He was telling me about a conversation with his friend who is an anti-vaxxer. For 10 years, they’ve been close, they did lots of things together, playing, biking, outdoor activities and had good, deep conversations.

But, just a few months ago (pre-Covid), they had a tense conversation which caused him to almost lose interest in the friendship. “Is that the end of your relationship?” I asked,

“I’m distancing myself from him right now,” he said.

Ken took it to heart when his anti-vax friend told him quite passionately and somewhat aggressively that if he had kids and would vaccinate them it would be like putting a bullet in their head. Ken felt attacked. “It was so intense and out of proportion!” He cried out. “I was afraid to respond”.

“Would you really give up on a good friend just because you think differently on vaccinations?” 

“I lost all respect for him. If he can believe in something he reads on Facebook and makes important decisions based on that… I lost respect for his ability to discern the truth.

I questioned his intelligence because his decision isn’t based on data and research. He is influenced by social media that believes in false science.”

“Did you have any disrespect for him before that last conversation as well or it all came about with this one conversation?”

“No, not before, I always appreciated him. But, my feelings had changed in that conversation. I had this disgusting feeling in my guts and felt uncomfortable. I believe anti-vaxxers are stupid. They allow themselves to be manipulated by the mass media.”

I hear this a lot. People believe a friend or loved one is a rational and decent human being. Then they have a conversation about a triggering topic and suddenly they perceive the same person to be a morally corrupt and raving lunatic. What’s going on?

“Have you asked him what he is basing his information on? What is the reason he is so emotional about it?”

“No way! I’m not interested in hearing any of it. He is so emotional! I can’t talk to him. I can’t talk logically with him. He has manic intense emotions on why vaccines don’t work. I just feel like ‘I’m right, you are wrong and I don’t want to listen to your opinions and engage the conversation.’”

“So, you are not interested in any conversation with him now after he shared with you his intense concerns and fears about vaccinations?”

“I’m more clear today on who I am and who I want to be surrounded with. I want to be surrounded with logical, intelligent, open-minded and not emotional people!” He said with deep conviction. “I’m going to move on and let go of old relationships that don’t work for me anymore.” 

Our world is drowning in polarization driven in part by social media that helps us surround ourselves with like-minded people. It’s comfortable, but in seeking that comfort we tend to distance ourselves from opposing opinions and people who are otherwise important to us.

“How do you know you are right? What are you basing your information on?” I asked him.

He was uncomfortable with the question, looked at me and said, “I feel weird not knowing which side you are on…” but then continued.

“I don’t have any data or information, but I believe vaccinations helped the world. The majority of vaccinations are working and saving lives. They might have some side effects but it is the outlier. “The anti-vaxxers will emotionalize that outlier and focus on the rare cases of people getting hurt by vaccinations. Anti-vaxers don’t look at the statistics! They don’t look at the data!”

I can hear he’s very passionate about this and press on.

“What makes this so emotional for you?” 

“I feel he’s violating what I consider to be true, my foundations. But I’m not interested in doing the research to prove I’m right.”

“So, you don’t have data and you don’t want to do the research, but you feel very strongly that you are right,” I smiled, “Can you say more about that?”

“I believe the earth is round, that we breathe oxygen and that vaccinations work! It’s fundamental. I don’t need to check it. I was vaccinated as a kid, my parents loved me and they vaccinated me. I never questioned that. This is how I grew up.”

At this point, he paused for a few long moments and looked at me tilting his head. It seemed something was clicking in his mind. Something was shifting.

“I’m… I’m not entirely confident about the information. I feel a sense of emotional rejection to even read about it… because… what if I’m wrong? What if I find out that he is right? That I’m the emotional one here… that I’m the one who never questioned his own beliefs. What if I become be part of them? Those crazy fringe groups. I feel resistance to be in that camp. I feel comfortable where I am, in the majority camp!”

Ken took a deep breath and shook his head. A more complete picture seemed to be forming in his mind.

“Wow, I’m realizing now it’s my pride speaking. It’s kind of us vs. them feeling. I want to part of the group that I consider to be better, stronger, bigger. In so many areas of my life, I belong to the minority, and I hold on to the belief in vaccinations just because it feels better to be in that group.”

____________________________________________

I called him a few days later. This was a huge shift to experience in the course of a single conversation and I wondered how he was feeling and whether anything changed in his relationship with his old buddy.

“I realized I was holding a strong position, I was judgmental, emotional and overly defensive, which came from a deep fear of belonging to the wrong group. I was distancing myself from my friend. I was the one whose opinions were not checked or questioned. I don’t want to be that guy who loses friendships for this. I care about him. He is a really good friend. I almost lost him. 

I feel softer. I feel like I undid a knot. I called him and shared this with him.
I don’t have a sense of disrespect for him anymore.
I don’t have a sense of us vs. them anymore. 
I feel less emotional about it.”

Of all the conversations I’ve had with people on both sides of a conflict, Ken’s shift was the quickest. He’s been practising and teaching meditation for over 20 years and radical shifts in perception aren’t new to him. Still, like most of us, he was blind to his own biases in this case.

I was honored to be present for the transformation and I hope this helps you, the reader, examine your own strongly held beliefs and see if maybe, just maybe, you hold on to them a little bit too strongly.


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@yaelfiner