from: Ash Alexa Anderson
to: facebook audience, friends, family, acquaintances, etc.
Hello, your friendly neighborhood anthropologist here. People keep asking me how we can learn to understand each other again.
If you are also interested, I do have an answer. It's just... weirder than you'd expect.
In order to learn how to understand another, you must first learn a foundational skill: how to handle being triggered. Luckily, this skill is also extremely useful for being a mentally healthy person across all kinds of situations, so totally worth learning even if you don't believe me that this is the way to heal America.
Many people will need to start by first learning to notice being triggered (i.e. having an emotional response to something). If that's you, great! Begin by noticing sensations in your body when listening to people talk. None of these sensations are bad. They can't hurt you. Let them in! You were probably taught your whole life to try to keep those out, or under control. That was counter-productive. They contain an incredible amount of information. Get curious about them! You have an incredible journey of self-discovery ahead of you! (It is also likely to heal a great deal of your physical pains. As we now know from books like Body Keeps the Score, when we try to shut down a signal without letting it in, it will often just keep trying and keep trying and keep trying to do its job.)
If you've got that part down, lucky you! You have already unlearned so many toxic things and you are likely already benefiting from information from parts of your nervous system that many people in our culture systematically shut down!
Next skill to master: same thing, but this time the system is the body made up of everyone in the conversation. So, when you hear something that makes you want to immediately react, become aware. First of all, if you try to shut down the signal without letting it be heard, that doesn't make the signal go away. Also, that's a person, not some nerves, and the discourse machine already armed them with a way of being angry at you for whatever reason [they think that] you shut them down. If you trigger them, they'll just shut you down, and that's going to make staying in the success criteria more difficult.
Instead, stay open. Stay curious.
That's it. That's the success criteria. Allow all the information in. Look for common ground. Stay curious.
Sometimes all I can do to stay in this place of curiosity is to literally ask questions, but that is fine: asking people who believe something I don't understand even a long series of genuine questions (as long as I am able to avoid jumping the stack to what the discursive machine has taught us both is "how this argument goes") is incredibly effective. I've gotten many people to tell me that I "really gave them a lot to think about" about their deeply held beliefs by doing this. You can too.
But that is not your goal. Your goal is to practice a skill--much like meditation. Just keep coming back to a place of genuine curiosity.
You are bound to learn that the other is not nearly as other as you assumed--or maybe they will learn that your beliefs make far more sense to them than they'd assumed. But gaining that understanding isn't the real goal here: it's just collateral gain. A happy accident.
The real gain here is in breaking the cycle that has led to a place where both sides believe the other side can't hear. It's about re-creating a society where people believe they -can- be understood.