Finding Common Ground

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On a recent trip to Michigan -where everyone dreams of vacationing mid-winter- my family found ourselves in a hotel pool joined only by another family with a few rambunctious little pollywogs of their own.  We quickly struck up a conversation and as we discussed new awakenings, somehow the father of the other family turned the conversation to the pro life-pro choice debate. He had strong feelings about the issue, as many people understandably do. It is literally a matter of life or death…at times for the mother-to-be, always for the growing little one inside her.  

Historically, I tend to stay quiet (or a long time ago, hotly debate) when people communicate strongly in a direction in which I lean differently.  But as I watch the political divide ever-increase in the United States, people literally choosing to rub shoulders as much as possible and even live in neighborhoods with predominantly those of like-minded views, I see dischord, fear, and even a lack of our leaders being able to reach across the aisle and find compromise.  As Brené Brown points out in Braving the Wilderness, the current culture is full of dehumanization based on ideological differences…when we still have so much in common.  So on this occasion, I spoke up.

I didn’t attack my fellow swimmer nor pretend to agree with him. I focused on how I love that we can see things entirely differently, but both of our reasonings were based on compassion.  One was looking with compassion focused on the right of any human to get every chance to live. The other was looking with compassion centered on quality of life for both parents and children.

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There are so many ways to look at every issue.

No one formed an opinion with the intent to hurt others.  Both formed their opinions with a deep sense of compassion and care.

I omit my opinion on this topic today because this isn’t about me.  This is about us as humans finding common ground: with our neighbors, our relatives, our leaders, and those of different customs, religions, cultures and countries.  It is about seeing what we do have in common, what we share. This is a hope and plea that we see the light in everyone and remember as Mem Fox writes so aptly in Whoever You Are , we all smile, laugh, hurt and cry, share joys, love and pain.

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I hope you find common ground in an unlikely place today.

Sharing Stories

Who doesn’t love a good story?  We read, watch, tell, sometimes even write them down.  Our tale-telling spans from the personal experience to the farthest fetched imaginings.  I have yet to find someone who has no interest in stories of any kind.  But for some reason, it was not until recently that I came to appreciate the need we all have to share our stories.  

 

It was a sunny Tuesday morning in late September, I was 41 weeks pregnant and noticed clear liquid dripping from my body….my water had broken.  waterbrokeThere was something else though.  A dark stain let me know that meconium was in my water, a sign that my baby might not be okay.  I texted my husband, who was in a meeting (with his remote job) just downstairs, that I thought my water had broken.  He was ecstatic.  I was in shock.

 

My preparation and hopes for a fully natural, peaceful, hypno-waterbirth did NOT come to fruition.  As most women will tell you, labor is no picnic…hahaha….. to say the least.  Due to the signs of fetal distress, I was constantly monitored, induced with medication, and unable to move nearly as freely as I had hoped.  epidural-is-magicalAll that being said, after feeling like a ravenous beast was devouring my internal organs for 9 hours, the midwife checked and found I was only 2-3 centimeters dilated (i.e. this state could have potentially continued for days).   Immediately and shamelessly I requested an epidural and 8 hours later had the most beautiful, peaceful birthing experience I could have imagined.

For a couple of weeks after my daughter’s birth, I felt an overwhelming sense that I needed to share the experience in great detail with people.  It mattered.  Not to everyone I talked with, but it mattered to me and with each telling, I seemed able to process my experience a little more fully and feel more settled and comfortably distant from it.

 

About six weeks after becoming a mother, I finally got to visit a friend who had given birth just a day after I had, and in the same hospital no less!  I had been so eager to hear her birth story, and originally really wanting to share mine as well.  By the time we finally got together, the details of my own experience seemed far less significant.  My friend, however, was still in a place in which she grew lively recalling her own birthing time.  birthing-reality

 

It was in this moment that I fully realized how important it is that we give people the space to share their stories, and truly listen with care and curiosity.  

 

I was reminded of experiences with my beloved Grandma Laurie and “Bumpa”, my step-grandfather.  They were both storytellers: my grandma loved to share family history.  She was an avid genealogist who travelled the world to meet distant relatives she discovered.  I’m talking across oceans to meet 3rd cousins twice removed.  The woman was one of a kind!  Bumpa, on the other hand, shared stories of his dust bowl era upbringing on a farm in Kansas.  Their stories were so different, but the common factor was their love to recount these tales.  

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Whether you are a lover of sci-fi films, news junkie, or any other type of story-telling, I hope the next time you have a story on your mind, you will share it.  And when you sit by a stranger on a bus or come home to your family after an exhausting day, I wonder if you will make space to truly listen to those who are ready to share.

story

We all have a story to tell.

 

Plethora of Perspectives

Do you ever find yourself analyzing a situation, resolving it in your mind, and growing emotional about how someone’s choice that impacts you in the situation is clearly “wrong”?  Whether it’s with politics, work, your friends or family, we all run into moments of disliking the choices another makes that impact us in some way.

Why are we so convinced that our own perspective is right?

I recently read an adaptation of Rumi’s poem “Elephant in the Dark” and found it eye opening on this matter.  A group of people, curious about what creature has be placed in a dark room, decide they cannot wait, but must reveal the room’s contents.  One by one they enter, each eager to uncover the mystery, each sure of what she has found.  One feels the ear- like a large fan.  Another feels its long, curving trunk-it must be like a snake.  Someone else encounters one of its thick, strong legs-it is solid and wide like a tree trunk.  Each person  is sure he leaves the darkness with a firm understanding of what the creature is.  Yet with their limited perspectives, none grasp the full measure of the elephant.

This past weekend, I found myself in several situations in which the involved parties grew emotionally charged and all had their own perspectives: with colleagues reflecting on a workshop, my partner as we discussed communication styles, even my dog as we walked. 

A small illustration: Last night, Naya, my dear canine companion, was absolutely convinced that she needed to lick whatever was stuck to the street.  I had no idea what the substance was, but a) I was sure I didn’t want her tongue running along the foreign substance and we had somewhere else to go –right then– as I saw it.  I called.  She tried to hold her stance.  I started to walk away, she continued anxiously licking.  What was more important in that moment: moving on or embracing what I perceived as appalling and perhaps sickness inducing, or what Naya thought was an absolutely delectable road treat?  She licked and scraped.  I walked forward.  Eventually she followed and fortunately no sign of sickness has appeared- at least yet.  We certainly saw things differently.

I often present my  challenges to one or two people to hear their opinions when I’m upset about something, just to get some alternate views.  Like looking through a fly’s eye.  Consider how many different angles and slightly different views a fly perceives when looking at a given image. If we’re being “open minded,” we may consider more than one side of any situation, but how many opinions and perspectives are we actually willing to consider?

How often do we remember to consider and look through others’ lenses?

While perusing some of photographer Jon Sanwell’s recent work from Myanmar, I encountered a series of photographs of betel leaves in baskets, including the one below.  Just from my own lens, I initially thought about the beautiful shades of jade green, the eye-catching angle of the shot, the juxtaposed glossy leaves and natural matte finish of the wicker baskets.  I wondered why someone would so carefully stack all the leaves in spirals around the containers.  But perhaps some people look at these leaves as the means to fitting in (chewing betel is a popular social practice in the region), the destroyer of their loved one’s health (betel is carcinogenic), or maybe just a really unique way to capture a part of Southeast Asia.  That’s just some of what I considered.  What are your thoughts looking at this photograph?

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So the next time you find yourself frustrated, hurt, confused, or even elated, consider how others are impacted by the situation and your actions.  Perhaps you will listen and learn a thing or two from someone with a different take.  Remember, everyone’s lens is unique.