The other day I was talking with a neighbor and they began to say something that I disagreed with. As they talked, I felt my stomach begin to churn, my chest tighten, and my cheek bones burn, all warning signs. My body was afraid and telling me it was time to run away because the situation no longer felt “safe.”
I closed my eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and reminded myself, “My neighbor is not going to eat me, he is not a bear.”
I recognize that might seem like a silly thing to say to myself, but I knew the signs of my body being in survival mode. Bodies are wonderful gifts and they can tell us all sorts of things if we pay attention. Sometimes though, when they demand our attention, we can react out of our survival mode, to run away or fight. This time, my body was telling me to run away.
Over time, I have learned that when I encounter this feeling within myself whenever I hear someone say something I disagree with, it is not actually time to run away ( there is no bear trying to eat me), but instead an invitation to really listen to what the other person is saying.
So, after my deep breath, I try my hardest to listen. I hear my neighbor saying things about a particular group’s point of view and how “crazy” and “radical” they are. Clearly those people are going to destroy us all. As I listened to my neighbor, I realized two things.
1. “Hey! I actually agree with those points of view! Not cool! I don’t think that they are crazy…”
2. “Ohh, my neighbor is doing to me what I do to others with different views than me. They are demonizing the whole group and all the people in it…”
So, when my neighbor finished their rant, I took a brave breath and said, “Hey, because I care about you, I want you to know, I actually hold some of those views and don’t think they are all that crazy. Can we talk about it?”
Twenty minutes later, after deep conversation, my neighbor says to me, “Yeah, sometimes we stereotype a whole group without understanding them.”
This experience was a humbling moment for me. To recognize that I also did the same thing to my neighbor in private as he was doing to me in person was a huge ego check. I understood in a new way that others are not crazy for thinking differently than me and it does no one any good to demonize another.
I realized that neighboring is an opportunity for us to encounter and meet people who we disagree with, so that we can release our false narratives about them and begin to know them as individuals who carry a piece of the whole picture. If we can do that, we can begin to see them for the gift they are, rather than the person we assume them to be.