The evening started out fine. The home cooked meal was wonderful. The other guests were strangers; but pleasant and interesting company. The wine was excellent and flowing freely. The conversations taking place around the table were warm and friendly. It was a wonderful evening sharing stories together as we all unconsciously explored the possibility of discovering or creating new friendships.
And then the bomb went off! It wasn’t a real bomb, but it was just as damaging. One of the dinner guests, thinking they were innocently adding to the conversation, made a comment that touched on politics. It was not made to offend anyone, but that’s all it took to blow up the evening.
“That’s ridiculous” the fellow sitting at the far end of the table exclaimed. “I can’t believe anyone could actually believe something that off the wall. It’s no wonder our country is falling apart. Beliefs like that only reflect the lack of knowledge and insight into the real problems facing our country”.
The silence that followed that statement was like the calm before the storm. Activity around the table hit the pause button and froze for what felt like an eternity. When the play button re-started the evening, it was as if we were all part of a totally new gathering.
Within minutes three other dinner guests had weighed in on the subject. Each offered their own strongly held opposing opinions and beliefs. The tension in the room was palpable. Firmly held colliding beliefs; offered in the imperative voice of absolute truth, had turned the quiet, friendly gathering around the dinner table into a rapidly fading surrealistic memory.
The host stood up, began picking up dishes and silverware, and announced that it was time to wrap up the evening. Everyone felt self-conscious and more than a little uncomfortable.
The Power Of Rigidly Held Beliefs To Harm Relationships
Strongly held colliding political beliefs offered in the imperative voice of absolute truth had emotionally turned everyone in the room into a category of “other”……and effectively shut down any possibility of creating new friendships. That dinner gathering took place almost two years ago, and sadly we’ve never been together with those folks again
As a therapist/life coach, this is a story that I’ve often heard from clients. Here are some tips on how to avoid this problem in your relationships……and a slick model (or visual) that will help you remember the tips.
Exploring The Roots Of The Problem
First, the problem was not with the person who made the comment that innocently touched on politics. If it wasn’t politics, it could have been religion. How to raise children. Global warming. Immigration. The economy. Or some other “hot” topic. When we are with strangers, or people we don’t know very well, it’s normal for people to search for things to say that will encourage conversation. In the example above, the comment innocently touched on politics……probably not a good dinner table topic, but such comments are common in this kind of setting.
The real problem began with the guest that blurted out “that’s ridiculous.” His knee-jerk response was to immediately correct the person who made the comment, and then emotionally offer his own opinions and beliefs in the imperative voice of absolute truth. This of course triggered similar emotional responses in those who followed him. Their increasingly emotional responses, opinions, and beliefs were also offered in the imperative voice of absolute truth.
This story demonstrates the power that rigidly held beliefs and opinions have to irreparably harm our relationships with others. The basic problem wasn’t the innocent political comment; the problem was the immediate response of the first person. His emotional response of “that’s ridiculous” was clearly an emotional knee-jerk reaction. There was almost no time between the stimulus (the non-offensive comment about politics) and his ‘that’s ridiculous” reaction. Of course, as others at the table jumped into the conversation with their various opposing views and opinions, they too demonstrated the same lack of choice in their responses. They too made emotionally driven statements that were delivered in the imperative voice of absolute truth.
The primitive ego’s of each person needed to be “right”.
A Life Coaching/Teaching Model
In person A below, the input stimulus (innocent political comment) triggers an immediate rigid, ideological belief (“that’s ridiculous”). A way to think about the rigid beliefs in person A is to picture them as dense, highly conductive superconductors that instantaneously connected the stimulus to the output response or reaction. There is no gap, or delayed reaction, between the stimulus and the emotional response/reaction. The response/reaction energy that was sent into the world was an immediate automatic, unconscious, emotional knee-jerk based on person A’s subjective beliefs. Beliefs that were offered in the imperative voice of absolute truth because they were assumed by his ego to be “right”.
In person B, the same input stimulus (innocent political comment) entered a self-aware, non-conductive middlepath consciousness devoid of rigid beliefs and opinions. In this case the input stimulus simply triggered an immediate, and fully conscious search for the truths present in the input stimulus statement. The response/reaction is a fully conscious choice based on the person B’s values; not their beliefs. They know that their beliefs are subjective and therefore not important. They would respond with active listening and questions. They know that their own beliefs and opinions will only tend to create conflict and emotional distance regardless of how gently they are offered.
Person B tends to be indifferent to things outside of themselves; as a self-aware person, they prefer to pay attention to their own inner feelings, behaviors, and responses. Rather than tell others what they believe, they prefer to show others who they are through their choices, behaviors, values, actions, compassion, empathy, and listening skills. They value the relationships they have with others as more important than the need to defend their subjective beliefs and opinions. Their ego has no knee-jerk need to be “right”.
In other words, they consciously choose their response; the energy they send into the world.
Telling other’s what you believe is never as important as showing them who you are through your choices and actions.
Middlepath thinking (actively searching for the truths in the other person’s ideas and beliefs) and well developed listening skills, allow us the reactive “space” to consciously choose our response. It increases the internal gap between our life experiences/stimuli and our response/reaction to that stimuli. Stated differently, middlepath thinking decreases the level of conductivity between input stimuli and our output response……it consciously increases the time between our experiences/stimuli, and our external reactions to that stimuli.
Middlepath thinking allows us to more consciously choose our response; in order to better reflect who we are, not what we believe.