I recently had lunch with a friend who commented that he had several friends who wouldn’t talk to each other because of the election results. Some even changed their Thanksgiving plans because they didn’t want to have to share a meal around partisan recriminations. He then told me that he had a friend who was going to work for the Vice-President elect, as if to inquire whether it was OK to keep that person as a friend.
I related to my colleague the story of how I met my friend Ed. One day at college one of my roommates came in and said, “Bob, I’d like you to meet Ed. He’s a really nice guy as long as you don’t speak to him about abortion.” Ed and I spent the next five hours, until 3 a.m. debating the issue. We’ve been best friends ever since.
The times between my college experience and this recent lunch are quite different, and not for the better. People have become less willing to listen to other points of view. I grew up in a family where we were taught to seek out other points of view, not to flee from them. My grandfather was as staunch a Republican as you’d ever find. He never voted for Franklin Roosevelt because he thought he as a socialist. Yet each morning he would go to the local newspaper vendor and buy all of the newspapers, including the communist “Daily Worker” paper, so that he could become familiar with opposing points of view.
My grandfather’s example is more relevant now than ever before. We should embrace people of different opinions, not shun them. We should be eager to listen to their point of view-but they should be equally willing to listen to ours.
When I mediate I give each party “Ground Rules for Mediation” so that we can have productive, respectful, positive meetings. As we gather for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holiday meals, think about these four Rules, which may make the day more civil and enlightening.
Ground Rules for Mediation
1. We agree to take turns speaking and not interrupt the other person when he/she is talking.
2. We agree not to demean, belittle, blame, attack or engage in “put downs” of one another. We will try to keep a respectful tone during our discussions.
3. We agree to speak in terms of our own needs/thoughts and not assume what is in the heart and mind of the other person. We will speak in terms of “I” as in “I believe,” “I want”, “I feel” not in terms of “You” as in “you believe”, “you want,” “you feel” [Many studies have shown that “you” is a very powerful attack word. It is to be avoided in contentious discussions.]
4. We agree to listen respectfully to what the other person says and ask questions to be sure we understand what the other has said.
5. We acknowledge that we have a lot of feelings about the issues under consideration and we agree to try to discuss those issues in a rational manner.
6. We acknowledge that the point of our discussion is to listen and learn and that we may never convince the other side that we are right and they are wrong. But we will respect each other more, not less, after our discussion and everyone will leave with a better understanding of the other’s point of view.
These rules can apply to mediation as well as conversation around the your holiday table. Happy Holidays to All.