How do you move the conversation beyond right or wrong?
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I'll meet you there." —Rumi
The two of us invite you to learn how to connect with those who think differently by taking a lesson from chickens:
Farmers used to think that it was in the nature of chickens to peck at one another, that they were basically loners, unsocial animals that couldn’t mingle without being nasty. On some farms, their beaks were clipped, but this only made it more difficult for the chickens to eat—-which made them hungrier, so they pecked at themselves and each other even more.
One day a curious chicken farmer noticed something exquisitely simple that changed everything: Chicken coops were dark, and the absence of light seemed to be what was causing the chickens to peck at themselves and each other. He decided to try an experiment and As soon as that farmer introduced a light source into his coops, his chickens stopped pecking—-it was as simple as that.
We are not all that different. When we don’t know what our minds need to think well together, we are like chickens pecking around in the dark. This isn’t as far afield as it might seem: When we are communicating and thinking well together, our faces actually “light up.” When our minds don’t get enough light, our thinking breaks down and we begin to peck-- at ourselves and with one another.
The past eighteen months has shown us that we can no longer afford to think in division and darkness. We are fighting, fleeing and freezing. Every significant conversation between us seems to be a tug-of war between polarities. Black or White. Win or lose. Red or Blue. We have forgotten how to think together about the possibility of purple. Never have we needed collaborative intelligence more. It is the necessary light for our individual and collective survival. We have no choice now but to think together.
Many of the barriers keeping us apart are actually optional, present only in the habits of our minds. When our lives depend on it, we can draw on the hardwiring we have to connect. Remember the first days after September 11? As a society we experienced a visceral longing to connect, to help, to offer whatever resources we had—prayers, talents, resources—to those most directly affected. We instantly changed our habitual individuated ways of thinking. What appeared to be separate and polarized ways of thinking came into balance, if only for a short time. We stopped pecking at each other.
Although our country appears to be divided now, it helps to remember that each of us has within our brains the hidden capacity to repair the ruptures between us. You are as hardwired to connect as you are to divide. You can learn to access your collaborative intelligence and reconcile the differences between you and someone you care about. Under each argument about who is right and who is wrong, lies real needs that wait to be met. There is one simple shining question you can use to dig in and uncover them. Simple but not easy. It takes a great deal of courage to cross the abyss between the two of you and ask it.
How Do You Find the Enlightening Question?
We dare you to stop in the middle of an argument with someone you care about and take three slow breaths while you feel your feet on the ground, notice your breath going in and out, and feel your heart beating in your chest. You’ll be shifting to a different part of your brain so, If need be, walk away, go to the restroom or get a drink of water to do this.
Practice: Part 1- Telling Yourself the Truth
Ask yourself in a truly curious tone of voice, the following question: “What really matters to me right now?”
Part 2: Connecting in Curiosity With Someone Who thinks Differently
After your own truth is clear to you, ask the other person the same question, in the same tone of voice , “What really matters to you about this right now?” Then lean in, breathe, and just consider what they are saying. You don’t need to agree. Just accept it as true for them in the moment.
Most breakthroughs emerge as a result of non-habitual thinking. We are used to seeing what we expect to see, hearing what we expect to hear and doing what we expect to do. Our collective habit of dividing truth into Right and Wrong, is blinding the light of our collaborative intelligence. A great and simple question can open your mind to discover how it could be possible for both of you to learn how to connect and move forward together.
We are sending you this blog to invite you to explore an essential question with us: How do we grow the intelligence within and between us to create a possible future? As you learn how to do this, we will all learn. Please share the effects of your courageous conversations with us. Please invite others to join this conversation.
-Dawna and Angie
Twenty years ago, Dawna was one of the co-creators of the viral revolution “Random Acts of Kindness,” which was a call to balance the random acts of violence that were spreading around the world at that time. She and Angie think as differently as any two people you could find, yet they have co-authored two books published by Random House: Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking With Those Who Think Differently (2015), and Reconcilable Differences: Finding the Courage To Connect With Someone Who Doesn't Think Like You (2018)