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Experimenting with social media, and processing the aftermath of another terrorist attack, I’ve come across a tendency that affects us even the best of us – the tendency to avoid a difficult conversation.
The difficult conversation most of us are avoiding was characterised by this post
where I shared on my Facebook page a LBC interview by a Muslim journalist critiquing the 'terrorism has nothing to do with Islam' narrative.
I almost didn’t share the post because I often cringe at the way a lot of political opinion is shared on Facebook, especially when it involves the tricky and emotionally charged topic of Islam. Most posts fall into either the platitude bucket – ‘let’s love, not hate’ or the fanatical bucket - ‘here’s why xyz religion / political party / person is wrong / right / evil / good’.
Both the platitude and fanatical buckets have something in common… neither promote discussion, openness or a genuine exchange. Neither are a conversation.
So it was with that in mind that I posted this link, in the spirit of opening up conversation, rather than trying to broadcast my opinion. I slightly covered my head to see the response and was hoping that a barrage of aggressive opinions wouldn’t come back. Or worse, the kind of stony silence that makes you feel like you’ve just shared something utterly racist. Let’s be honest, these kind of issues are scary and complicated to comment on. They’re difficult conversations.
The response to my post first pleasantly surprised, and then disappointed me.
The bit that pleasantly surprised me was that a number of people ‘liked’ and shared the post, without any aggressive comments. Phew. That’s a good sign because for me ‘likes’ are an indication of messages being received and thought about.
The bit that disappointed me was the comparative lack of response.
Not that I want to get all county county on my ‘likes’ (that seems frankly needy), but I had 200+ likes and 70+ comments when I announced I was pregnant (yes, a big event for me, but tiny in the grand scheme of things), but a tiny smattering of engagement for a profoundly important, difficult conversation such as this?
Why is it that we find it really easy to ‘like’ and engage in positive conversations on social media (birthdays, important announcements, cats doing something cute…), but shy away from the conversations that are really important – the ones that shape our future?
And aren’t we at risk of doing the same in ‘real life’ as well?
Don’t we all shy away from the difficult conversations with friends, colleagues, family members? The ones where we know we should discuss something awkward, but it’s easier to keep plodding along doing something more positive.
Forget our difficulties… here’s a dancing cat!
I get it, I get it, the dancing cat is a much more pleasant way to spend time in the short term. The problem is that the longer you shy away from difficult conversations, the more you allow an issue to fester.
Far from promoting a sense of togetherness, avoiding conflict actually promotes it in the long run.
Why? Because we’re left to harbour our opinions and prejudices in isolation, without the critique, shaping and wisdom that comes from having our perspectives challenged. In an eco-chamber climate, our own opinions when unchallenged grow into lumbering, bloated, ego trips that don’t serve anyone. All that happens is we make the mistake of thinking we’re right, without daring to test it.
If instead we gravitate towards difficult conversations and dare to engage in them from a place of calm and openness, we can understand each other more, even if we agree to disagree.
And we know that difficult conversations clear the air.
Think about a difficult conversation you’ve had that you’ve put off for a long time and then finally managed to have. It could be Coming Out to your family, asking for a pay rise, telling a friend or colleague they screwed up, letting your partner know what’s bothering you… How did it feel when you let it fester? And how did it feel when you finally managed to have the conversation?
Even if they create more chaos or difficulty in the short term, difficult conversations free us up to be more honest. They help us grow.
Difficult conversations are, yes, difficult. I don’t have an answer just yet and I don’t have a blueprint for making your difficult conversations easier. Sorry.
But I do want to notice where I, we, avoid difficult conversations and stop doing it quite so much.
And I want to know, why do you think we avoid certain difficult conversations? What do you think is the solution?
How can we be safe enough to go towards the difficult conversations, rather than shy away from them?
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