This week we continue our Stewarding Difficult Conversations series with an author who has real experience navigating conflict. Carly Cubit applies these lessons to congregations, and urges us to embrace the challenge, even if -- or, because -- it’s hard work.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Fear and Anger Unearthed through Dialogue
Real, intense, and transformational conversation: have you experienced it? These are the dialogues that we do not want to have because of fear and anger and the dialogues that we need to have because of fear and anger. Those two emotions work together to create walls between us, and yet they are so beautiful when we unearth them to others and to ourselves. My work as a small group facilitator is to unlock that beauty by listening deeply and asking powerful questions. Here’s my big question at the moment:
How can we direct our fear and anger in a way that builds a community that invites all perspectives?
Ask yourself that question too. I’m serious. Write it down, tell a friend, take a break. It may be helpful to think of one community you are involved in.
We are in a time where conversation is not only difficult but also scary: the stakes seem higher. We feel that we have something to lose and that conversation is a space where we are vulnerable to that loss. At the same time, many of us are steaming! We want to “win” our conversations. Suddenly, each moment becomes a win-lose debate and the emotions that got us there are never shared.
Our cultural norms allow these emotions to act as a barrier to empathy. This is why my answer to the question above continues to circle back to raw, honest dialogue.
We can create spaces where people with drastically different beliefs can share. This space can even lead to the collaboration of opposing viewpoints that is necessary for a peaceful society. I have seen it, many times. I saw it first at World in Conversation, a Center for Public Diplomacy where I was trained as the facilitator that I am now sharing with you. At the Center, students have the opportunity to work in conversations on deeply historical, systematic, and contentious topics such as race, gender, international relations, and climate change. There, I saw groups of people that have been positioned against each other -- people who have been at war, people whose human rights have been violated or ignored for hundreds of years, people in situations of power -- actually listen, empathize, and expand because of dialogue.
If I can give one takeaway from this work, it is that conflict should actually be seen as a cue that conversation is necessary. This will give you the strength to understand and direct your fear and anger.
Addressing Conflict in Faith Communities
The church was a space that I was less familiar with in my work until Pastor Keith Anderson saw the connection between what I do as a facilitator and what his congregation needed. He saw the congregation’s differing views as an opportunity. I attended his God on Tap program and co-facilitated a conversation among the group specifically about “Having Difficult Conversations.” There was, in fact, conflict present, and I was so impressed by the bravery of the group to share and address their differences so honestly. People with divergent views felt safe to share. That is exactly what we need. If we want a culture, and a church, with real empathy, we need to actually listen to the perspectives that we disagree with first, as opposed to insulating ourselves from them.
Here are my suggestions as you start to steward difficult conversations:
- Invite all perspectives, including perspectives outside the “binary.”
- Practice listening and asking questions without inserting your own personal opinion.
- Give the person you disagree with the space to share and feel heard, before you share your own opinion.
- Share honestly. Do not undermine your own passion as a participant in the conversation.
- Use a facilitator: someone who trained in taking a neutral position. Facilitators know how to ask the difficult questions, help you all listen, and navigate conflicts. I learned from Pastor Keith that pastors often naturally fall into this role.
- Open the dialogue (and your heart) to other faiths and beliefs. An interfaith conversation could be an amazing step to building that larger community of more ideologies.
Create a dialogue where fear and anger can breathe. If your group can hold on to that goal, together you can work through this challenging time.
Read the rest of the Stewarding Difficult Conversations series here:
Breaking Our Hearts Open in the Midst of Discord by Mary Hess
Tapping Into Difficult Conversations by Keith Anderson
For More Information
Carly Cubit has worked as a dialogue facilitator and trainer for six years, working with groups locally and globally. She is currently working on a project with students in Bogotá, Colombia who want to learn to facilitate dialogues in order to support their post-conflict, peacebuilding process.
"Handshake" image by Metropolico.org. Creative Commons licensing on Flickr.