Harder Conversations and Awful Discussions
My husband watched my “Morning WOLK with God” episode while I sat next to him. When it finished, I remarked that I’d come a long way from my days as a miserably inept lobbyist.
Remembering my disastrous time as an Olympia influencer, I regaled him with my story of woe when I was working for our state teachers’ association. I’d been assigned the charter school initiative, a very hot topic at the time. I was asked to prepare testimony for the House and Senate education committees and then to follow the proposal through the legislative process. I spent morning, noon, and night preparing comments, honing my arguments.
The idea of testifying terrified me and I wanted to be ready, to say something meaningful, to be ready for any and all rebuttals, to represent the state’s teachers in an articulate, thought-provoking manner. Really—I just didn’t want to screw up. I was on a short-term assignment with the organization and if I dazzled them, I was hoping I might be considered for long-term employment. I screwed up.
I was so focused on my own testimony, what I was going to say and how I was going to say it, my own agenda, that I missed the fact that the bill had been pulled from consideration—the legislative agenda—days earlier. Watching me continue to prep and waiting to see how long it would take me to figure it out, my boss finally pulled me aside after three days and gave me the good news.
That story’s especially noteworthy remembering that it occurred not long after my illustrious term as president of our local teachers’ association. I’d been elected not because of any great leadership skills, not because my three years of teaching had made me particularly wise, but because no one else wanted the position.
Too young and naïve to know what I didn’t know, I stumbled into some intense salary negotiations. At one point I had an offer from the school district that needed to be shared with the teachers. During our general membership meeting I began with a rousing stump speech on the importance of class size and release time, neither mentioned in the district’s offer.
But before getting to the “rousing” portion of my message, I was interrupted by a well-organized smaller group of teachers who just wanted to take the district’s raise and get back to their classrooms. A motion was made and seconded before my eyes were off my notes. A short discussion followed. Someone called for the question and a vote was taken before I fully understood what had just happened.
Not appreciating the concerns of the teachers, not knowing parliamentary procedure, too focused on my own agenda, I’d lost control of the meeting to seven people in the back of the room who’d never even taken the time to sit down, teachers who’d done their homework and knew what their colleagues wanted, who had their own agenda.
It’s so easy for me to get focused on my own agenda. At times it’s easy to miss the bigger picture. Has that ever happened to you?
“Our Morning WOLK with God” is about words of loving kindness. When we share words (and deeds!) of loving kindness, we’re sharing God’s loving kindness that became our saving grace. That’s from the third chapter of Titus, a wonderful letter that Paul wrote to his co-worker in the faith about how to engage with the community, how to be a compelling example of Christian life.
But the mere thought of engaging with the community may exhaust us. Yes, it’s a new year, but we’ve still got major issues from last year. Yes, the elections are behind us, but we’ve still got major decisions, harder conversations before us. Yes, the vaccine is here, but we’ve still got major logistical issues to figure out.
In his letter, Paul was not only encouraging Titus, but he was encouraging all of us to be compelling examples of Christian life. And knowing we’re all a little exhausted, a little overwhelmed, a little cynical at times, how do we do that? Where do we even begin those harder conversations?
Personally, I need to start by talking less and listening more. When having those harder conversations, I’m too often replaying that miserably inept moment as a lobbyist, as a union president, when I was too focused on my own agenda—what I was going to do, what I was going to say, what I thought best—that I missed what was really going on, what others were really saying and feeling.
Too often I’m still putting my own agenda first during harder conversations. And if one of my non-negotiables is gratitude, then I want to value those around me—what they’re saying, what they’re feeling, what they’re experiencing. I want to learn from them. I want to grow with them. I want to find solutions together, but I can’t do that if I don’t understand them, if I don’t appreciate their perspective, if I don’t stop and listen.
Alfred Brendel is an Austrian pianist, poet, author, and lecturer. He reminds us that the word LISTEN has the same letters as the word SILENT.” I want to listen during harder conversations, not just long enough for me to reply, but long enough for me to revere and respect and reflect.
How do we have bigger discussions, harder conversations? I have to start by talking less and listening more. I know! That’s an amazing statement for someone who’s talking at you every Friday morning.
Does this mean we remain silent? No, God’s words of loving kindness need to be heard every day in every way in every place. It just means we watch for those times when we need to listen first. The harder conversations and the bigger discussions can happen after we’ve heard.
I love the book of Proverbs which so often gets right to the point: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Regarding harder conversations, I learned that the hard way.
We walk together, ladies! I treasure the uniqueness that is each one of us, our unique perspectives, unique ideas, unique thoughts and concerns. And together we can spread God’s love, joy, peace, and hope in wonderfully unique ways. Together.
Heavenly Father, let there be peace on earth and let it begin with us.
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
God, You are our creator, and family all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.