Can We Talk?

I was on the worlds most popular social media site the other day. A very well known yoga philosopher with thousands of friends (most of whom probably don’t know each other) posted an article. The article was written by the “recoveryingyogi” about his experience going to a level 2/3 yoga class in trendy Santa Monica, California. It seems there were two young men in the class who were new to yoga, and the teacher berated them during class about coming to a class that was above them. They ended up slinking out of the class early. Some quotes from the article:

“The fact that they’re calling it a 2/3 class should have been an instant tip-off that it wasn’t a yoga class; it was an exercise class”

“Bullying these men into leaving their first and possibly last yoga class is analogous to throwing someone out of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting because they didn’t have the right “level” of sobriety”.

The post by my friend the philosopher generated 68 replies. There was definitely agreement and disagreement with the article and with each other. What was interesting to me was not so much whether I agreed or disagreed with the author (I did both). It was about how the repliers engaged with each other. Were they having a conversation? Or where they having a debate?

It brings up the question: How do we engage with difference? Particularly, how do we engage with others who see things differently than we do? It seems there are 3 basics ways we can deal with these differences:

1) Disengage: They have their views and I have mine. There is no point in talking about it, so I will not engage.

2) Debate: They are wrong and I am right. I will show them why they are wrong and I am right.

3) Converse: We view things differently. I wonder why they believe that. Maybe through a conversation I can learn something, or teach something.

I value disagreement. If we only talk with people who agree with us, where’s the opportunity to learn something? That sounds boring. Have you ever noticed how people perk up with there is a disagreement?

Most of the people posting responses to article were in debate mode. It had it’s comedic side to me: A bunch of spiritual yogi’s debating about yoga. You mean we can’t even talk with each other?

There was one person who was clearly having a conversation. He boldly stated his opinion and why he looked at things that way, but never degraded into name calling or what I like to call “Dis-bonding” behavior. Yes, I made up of the word Dis-bonding. I define it as creating separation: “This conversation is beneath me.”, “I can see this is going nowhere”, or worse, some type of overt name calling.

I’m certainly not saying we should always engage in conversation with those who disagree with us. There are times when disengaging is the right thing to do. There may even be times when debating is the right thing to do, although I doubt it is very often. Debates are polarizing, and the world is already very polarized.

We can see this lack of conversation in politics, religion, health, the environment, sex roles, and many other places. What I would like to see more of in myself and in the world, is the art of conversing with difference. If we stay with our entrenched positions, we cannot learn something new. It’s a lot like zealotry. Are we really completely convinced that we are right about everything? If you are right, there is no need to gather more information; after all, you already know.

I think there is a human tendency to identify with our beliefs. When we do this, we feel a need to defend our beliefs when they are challenged. When I identify with my beliefs, it is very hard to stay in conversation with someone who disagrees with those beliefs; threaten my beliefs and you threaten me.

We live in a world of uncertainty. The beliefs held today are considerably different than the beliefs held only 100 years ago. Certainty feels good, comfortable – like we know where we are going. I think it is a comfortable illusion. There is very little certainty in life. Because certainty feels so much more comfortable than uncertainty, we attach to our beliefs with certainty.

I think the time has come for us to get comfortable with uncertainty. To embrace that we don’t know everything. To realize that we are more than our beliefs. To be willing to share our perspective with others, and realize that being wrong would not diminish us in any way. To realize that others are on their own path in life, and we don’t have to agree with them, but they might know some things that we do not. Even if they are wrong about what they believe, it might still be the right path for them. To try to knock someone off their path because you “know” better is not helping that person – or yourself. We can’t teach anyone who does not want to learn. We can offer the seeds of our wisdom, but we cannot make them grow. This is as it should be.

How we are in the world is contagious. If we refuse to engage, or enter into debate mode all the time, others will have that tendency too. If we can have conversations, others will see that and will be more likely to relax and allow for a non polarized exchange of idea’s. It takes a certain spiritual maturity to talk with instead of to talk at someone. Enjoy the conversation!

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