A conversation has begun (and it changed me a tiny bit)
Let me start with a story - I met Shana in a singing workshop last year in Prague and we stayed in touch. To the “bubble” invitation, she wrote back: “This is lovely. With your permission, I want to participate and share.” And few days later, she shared a story of her friend, a musician and songwriter called Jean.
Jean participated in the Women's March on January 21st and was playing a concert that night with her pink hat (sign of the participants of the march) on. After the concert, a woman in her 60's came up to her to ask "I heard about the thousands of people marching today and I am curious. Why are you frightened about a Trump presidency?" Jean started explaining some of her concerns about Trump's character and attitudes to her. The lady repeated that she is just trying to understand and that she is genuinely curious ... and she shared that she was also frightened when Obama was elected. They both agreed that Trump's tweeting habit is not a great thing. Jean thanked the lady for genuinely asking and listening and somehow at the end they were holding hands. Jean writes about her "first direct encounter with a Trump supporter": "I walked away empowered and felt that a conversation had begun."
What really worked in this story is the genuine openness and curiosity of the Trump supporter lady - she kept repeating “I am just trying to understand”. The “out of the bubble conversations” can be highly emotional (especially on the day after Trump’s inauguration), so openness is crucial.
And of course, there are no fireworks at the end, no falling in each other’s arms, not agreeing on much (except maybe the tweets). But the “conversation had begun” and by holding hands, we acknowledge each other as a human being and not as the “enemy”.
In the same spirit, my Indian friend Subir opened a discussion with a colleague of his - US, white male, Republican - anti immigration, anti Obamacare, anti doles, for guns etc. He writes: “Initially he was hesitant to share his views openly, but soon he realized that I am not judging, but listening to him and his thoughts - he opened up. I did realize how Trump won.. many people believed in Trump's ideas and views, but never openly shared. That is the reason that not many predicted well.”
My friend Melodie actually shared her experience on the website forum. To the question: “Do you think mankind will like doing this? Will it change the world?”, she says beautifully:
"Maybe a tiny tiny tiny tiny bit. Maybe because it changed me."
New facts and ladder of inference
Another benefit of out of the bubble conversations was shared with by my friend Marie in Prague. She talked to her uncle about a topic they disagree on - attitudes to Romas. Instead of the usual “I am right, your are wrong”, this time Marie aimed to understand where do her uncle’s attitudes (“racist” from her point of view) come from. She discovered that when he was in secondary school in a small Czech town, he had frequent encounters and difficult experiences with the Roma minority in that town. As for herself, she admitted that her pro-Roma views were based on principles and second hand reports from other people only. That does not mean that her views are wrong, but the new piece of information made Marie more understanding and willing to have further discussions with her uncle.
Using the terminology of organizational psychologist Chris Argyris, you could say that Marie started exploring her uncle’s “ladder of inference”. The ladder describes the way in which we all select data, interpret them and create assumptions and beliefs. Once we have these beliefs, we select data based on them (this is called the confirmation bias). That might explain why we sometimes feel we are living in a different world than our uncles … I am planning to write a blog later about how understanding other’s and our own ladders can be useful - stay tuned!
As a result of my New Year’s email, a friend in Prague on started to send me some of the articles and blogs he follows. As we are in different “bubbles” as far as our attitudes to islam and refugees to, sometimes I have a very emotional reaction when reading some of the material. And on the whole, it has been much more interesting and eye-opening for me to read the articles he sends rather than ressassing the articles “on my side”.
So as a mini-conclusion - out of the bubble conversations enable us to stay in touch with our uncles or strangers during a concert. And they enable us to learn new things. Now I need to run - I am off to continue the discussion with my own uncle about the European Union. He wants to abolish it and I think we should still give it a chance.