A sad reality in the past year or more has been our ongoing struggle to engage in difficult conversations — with our longtime friends, with coworkers, or even with family members across the Thanksgiving table. We’ve always had differences around social and political issues — racial justice, immigration, religious identity, health care, guns, etc. — but those divisions are starker than ever. Our traditional and social media have become so fragmented and polarized that we find ourselves practically inhabiting a different reality than those we disagree with; we only really hear or engage with the perspectives of those with whom we already largely agree. This is not a tenable situation for our country — or for our families. If we are to maintain meaningful relationships, we need to actively engage in difficult conversations with people we disagree with and find some common ground for the common good.
I believe that there are moral issues, values choices, and faith matters that lie just beneath the political headlines. Conversations around those — leading to action — can get us further than our political debates. I also believe there are two great hungers in our world today: the hunger for spirituality and the hunger for justice, and the connection between the two is absolutely vital now.
With that in mind, I set out to have conversations with some of the most brilliant leaders I know about some of our most vexing national and global issues. In a new spoken-word series for Audible, I had long conversations with people like Joe Kennedy III, Margaret Atwood, Brittany Packnett, Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Valarie Kaur, Rev. William Barber II, Mark Shriver, and Eboo Patel. Here's what some of them have taught me about how to have these difficult conversations.
1) To find common ground, we must first see each other — and value each other on a basic human level.
"So many folks can't look at one another and see God … so our failure to see ourselves in one another, our failure to see God in one another is why mass incarceration exists. It is why police violence exists. It is why not all children are educated the same in this country." — Brittany Packnett
2) It is in our common moral values that we can find underlying areas of agreement.
"Every major religion has said you need to minister to the poor; you need to take care of the poor people; you need to take care of the widows and orphans. And that is in the Old Testament and it's in the Gospels and certainly in a motif in the Muslim religion and it is a motif in Buddhism as well. So we could go on. It's just … it just seems to be something that human beings have been cognizant of, that you need to take care of if you are having an inclusive kind of society; you need to take care of the people on the bottom end." — Margaret Atwood
3) The truth matters, however inconvenient or difficult that might be. Hold fast to the truth even as you try to find common ground.
"Truth and reconciliation is [a] sequential [process]. You have to tell the truth first because without the truth you don't know how to reconcile yourself to what you're trying to do." — Bryan Stevenson
4) Real change takes time.
"It's going to be a long-term engagement. So if the Montgomery bus boycott was over 380 days, we need to get ready not just for a tweet … We need to turn up our faith [and] turn on our courage … and not give up the faith." — Rev. William Barber II.
I am very excited about the conversations we have had so far — and those to come. I invite you to join us and listen to the kind of conversations that can change us, and even change the world if we put them into action. I hope you will be listening in.
Want to hear more? As a Sojourners reader, you get exclusive access to the full season of my new spoken-word series Jim Wallis: In Conversation for FREE. Just click here and you'll be able to listen to all nine conversations. I invite you to listen, to take in the wisdom from these leaders, and use them as you engage in conversation this holiday season. Get access here.
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