I’ve been listening to another Nomad podcast, this time with director of thinktank Theos, Elizabeth Oldfield. The conversation was all about how we engage with those who are not like us. She had three insights that particularly struck me. This post will be part 1.
The first insight was to do with a passage in Luke’s’s Gospel, where Jesus says:
“But I tell everyone who is listening: Love your enemies. Be kind to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who insult you. 29 If someone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other cheek as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t stop him from taking your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who asks you for something. If someone takes what is yours, don’t insist on getting it back. If someone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other cheek as well – what’s that all about ?
Elizabeth Oldfield talks about our most common responses to conflict, which are well understood – fight or flight. So if someone hits you, you can respond by hitting back or running away. But there’s often a third option, which is just to hang in there. This means subverting our gut response, which, depending on our personality, history etc, will be to run or hit back. So for example the conflict might not be about fisticuffs, but to do with a difficult conversation where someone has said something that makes us want to verbally ‘hit back’ or alternatively withdraw from the conversation. Jesus is saying – “Stick with it. This might be a conversation worth having, even if it’s tough.”
I can relate to this. In my experience it’s usually when someone says something critical about something I have said or done. My typical responses are to a) back down and say nothing, or b) justify myself and say why I am in the right. Neither option allows for a genuine conversation to take place.
What I have tried to do in that kind of situation is to say – ‘Tell me more’, or ‘Help me to understand why you feel like that.’ Responding in that open way has often led to a greater understanding on my part why the other person has said that – which may actually have more to do with them, or their circumstances than with what I have said or done. It also may (although this is not the main purpose) give me an opportunity to explain my own point of view.
Grace and peace to everyone who is struggling with how to have difficult conversations.
Elizabeth Oldfield is director of the thinktank Theos
and has a podcast – The Sacred