I can just feel it; I am sitting in a public space and someone says something that I find offensive, patronizing, ignorant or otherwise infuriating. I can barely think. Then, I may flush from emotion, I feel my own “fight or flight” hormones rushing through my body. Usually, within an hour or two, I find some “snappy comeback” that isn’t snappy at all because it took me two hours to think of it. Without a doubt, the experience is disorienting and uncomfortable, even if all I do is pay for my coffee and keep walking. The experience lingers and I wonder if I wish I could just forget.
But without a doubt, I know that I am called to engage in difficult conversations.
Whether it is at home, or with the pastor at Mars Hill. I cannot ignore the worlds and words of others, sticking only with those who “think just like me.”
It is very difficult and I do a lot of reading about this, how to have those difficult conversations. As a pastor, I am called to go into situations that are full of discomfort and I need tools to help me survive the experience, learn and grow through them.
Here are some of what I I have found I need to put in my toolkit for difficult situations and difficult conversations:
- Humility. I know my experience and interpretation of experience, but not another person’s. I have limited information. I’d better go out to coffee with you!
- Curiosity. Tell me about your experience, tell me about how you see things, what you value. I’d better listen hard!
- Self awareness. I know a lot about my own inner rules, my personal values that motivate me. This I will articulate, without assuming that you know it, or necessarily share it.
- Self assurance. I can hear someone else speak from a different value system without it destroying my own. And over time, I have also learned that I will not find common ground or even respect, in every difficult conversation. Sometimes, I find, the only thing to do is walk away. We may never have coffee again.
That is just a little of what I find is needed for the difficult conversations of my life.
I would sure love to hear what others have in their toolkits.
And yes, I wonder if anybody in the church community is going to offer a “welcome to Spokane” chat with the leaders of Mars Hill Church when they come to town? It is sure to include difficult conversations sooner or later! Well? Coffee anyone?
Andy CastroLang is senior pastor at Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ. She is deeply committed to civil discourse between individuals and throughout our community; in interreligious conversation, private conversation, intergenerational conversation and yes, even in political conversation. She has been a supporter of SpokaneFaVS since its inception because she supports this creative effort at thoughtful community conversation.