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The On Being Project

Our Disagreements Can Open Us Up to Each Other

For the Thanksgiving weekend here in the U.S., our entire team was off celebrating the holidays with family and friends. I was back home in North Dakota soaking up the glorious weather. I hope you’re reveling in the splendor of this glorious moment, too, with all its messiness and its mystery — which is a nice segue for our featured essay of the week…

(Bob Mendelsohn / Flickr / © All Rights Reserved)

Sharon Salzberg | How to Talk with Your Relatives Over the Holidays
For many of us, this next month will be fertile ground, rich with opportunity for meaningful conversation and connection. It’s also peppered with landmines, and there are few people better to turn to than Sharon when it comes to approaching difficult conversations with family and friends:

“To really listen you come to the exchange from a viewpoint of curiosity, not judgment. You do not need to lead with emotion. It is not necessary to let the other person know how you feel. The best approach is to ask questions.

If you end up in a heated exchange, despite your preparations, remind yourself that you do not have to win. It’s fine to respond with, ‘I just don’t see it that way.’ Or, ‘Too bad we don’t agree on the facts.’ Know that this does not have to be your last conversation. You will see this person again, and in that gap you can consider what was said and try a new approach.”

And might I recommend a few other fine pieces of writing by our other columnists and guest contributors:

Several weeks ago, I received an unexpected note from a man I haven’t heard from in over three decades: my junior high English teacher and football coach. It made my heart dance. If I may, I’d like to share part of it with you:


You maybe don’t remember me, but I’m one of your old English teachers. Thank you for providing something this society desperately needs, and as a matter of fact, something this entire planet needs. Thank you, thank you.

I just heard Krista’s conversation with Jonathan Haidt. I’ve been a conservative seeking to understand liberals for most of my life. I’ve come to admire liberals, and I’ve also come to recognize my limitations, as a conservative. These are difficult times for me, because conservatives and liberals need each other in order to find our way forward, and there aren’t enough of us who are willing to have a conversation.

So anyhow, I was looking up this Haidt guy to find someone to talk to, and I ran into your email address, and I just had to say thanks. Thank you for keeping the conversation alive. I’m so proud to have known you.

To recognize the limitations of our own perspectives is noble. To admire and take delight in other worldviews and political leanings that come into contrast with our own, well, that’s transcendent. Can we truly stretch ourselves to not only understand others we don’t agree with, but also find value in those perspectives and see our own frailties and weaknesses?

Even after all these years of working on this project, I’ll admit that it can be a struggle at times to expand my vision, to stretch my own tunneled approach to issues dear to me. But, it’s people like my former English teacher living in the middle of North Dakota who can open us up again.

If you’re looking for a place to start, try out our guide to having better conversations. The key: enter into those places with the true generosity that resides within you.

May the wind always be at your back,

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