A day into the new year and thankfully I’m facing far less drama and heartbreak from this time a year ago.
This past year was long and hard, yet one that ended well in a relationship filled with what I now feel is a trusting love. Admittedly, I felt the same confidence a year ago. Feelings that weren’t shared.
So it seemed a good gesture to host a dinner party with some of those most responsible for my healing from the unexpected beginning of 2016. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough room for all who helped, and some of those incredibly important people were away for the holidays.
Our little gathering here on Listening Stones Farm included one of two conversations of awakenings from the past two nights of New Year’s gatherings I hope will stick with me. Both were telling and relevant for me as we head into what appears to be a turbulent future for our nation when considering these past several weeks of prelude with our forthcoming new president.
While his name is unimportant, the first conversationalist seemed to be the kind of man who I’m guessing voted for our incoming president. Angry and white. Spiteful. Mistrusting. Opinionated. Seemingly prejudiced. And, quite outspoken. In my four years of living here we had not crossed paths, and considering his take on life, this isn’t surprising.
Tall and imposing, the man interrupted a woman friend several times in a kitchen conversation to express opposing views. He was assured and loud, and his being unwilling to hear of a view different of his own angered me most. He possessed a sudden summary with a declarative response to whatever was said. He was angry with the world he saw. He found blame with Obama, with unseen immigrants, and disputed the claim that the cost for welfare recipients was small in comparison to other federal budget items.
“There’s way more than they claim!” he spat. “Money wasted on people who don’t want to work. Immigrants. Wasted taxes!”
This, however, isn’t about him so much as it being about me and my unspoken response to his boorishness. Yes, I was angered, and not just for myself. The woman he was unwilling to hear is highly educated and works to help communities and individuals with business advice and grant money. Her attempted responses were measured, and came after she heard him out.
My anger toward his attitudes and outspoken responses basically ruined an otherwise fun gathering of friends and neighbors, around a buffet of excellent foods. My seething anger was apparently obvious to others.
Then on New Year’s Day a different group of folks gathered here on the farm for a similar gathering. We didn’t have the incredible array of home-smoked meats of the previous party, but we had an ample layout of good food. After we ate I mentioned how much I appreciated us being respectful of one another around the dinner table, and referenced the moment from the night before.
“I actually enjoy being in those situations,” replied a friend, who as a union negotiator has talked many times about he must listen to all sides while attempting to create consensus. “I love going up to the coffee shop and sitting down with the old timers and asking them questions. ‘So tell me, what is it that convinced you to vote the way you did?’ And so forth. Then I listen and ask more questions. You don’t have to ask many questions before we realize we’re not that much different from one another, that we share many thoughts. It’s dialog and conversation.”
Suddenly I realized that my response of sudden and seething anger from the night before had been wrong and misguided. Indeed, on this morning after our dinner I was in a conversation with the woman who was being bullied, in my opinion, at the first party. She said: “I find that compassion helps me with those who hurt. I feel we are in the situation we are in because we could not listen with compassion to some who were suffering. And we may not even see the suffering. In fact, we usually don’t.”
As we move into a new year, with so many at odds with one another, I find myself needing to instead ask more questions and to listen to those answers compassionately. For being angry and walking away from one another is what perhaps brought us to such a divide in the first place.