From race and sexuality to class and religion and everything in between, it can be really challenging to push yourself to have these difficult, mature, respectful conversations. For many, these topics are heavy, emotionally charged, and deeply personal. Of course it makes sense to steer clear of such conversations, and quite frankly, it’s the easy thing to do. Who wants to offend others? Who wants to be judged based on their political and/or moral beliefs? Who wants to second guess everything they were taught and, in turn, the very people who imparted such knowledge? No one ever wants to be that guy, but think about all the good that’s come from folks who were courageous enough to stand up and spark lively conversations about challenging topics: Angela Davis. Tim Wise. Jane Adams. Jimmy Carter. Marian Wright Edelman. Cesar Chavez. Helen Keller. Nelson Mandela. Gloria Steinem. Howard Zinn. And the list of fearless folks goes on and on and on. Again, the work they did and conversations they started were overwhelmingly difficult, and yet they were also—and more importantly—life changing. They leaned into the discomfort, and so should you!
Whether you’re in a classroom discussion or at an open forum, how can you go about leaning into the discomfort of uncomfortable and challenging conversations?
These three Rs will help get you started:
Recognize your beliefs. There’s a reason why you think what you think. Don’t shy away from it, but explore it instead. Your experience and notions are your truth, and there’s nothing wrong with that!
Remove your fear. Fear not only holds you back from sharing your opinions, but also doing some deep and meaningful self-reflection. Furthermore, it prevents you from having honest conversations with yourself and others. Don’t let fear hinder you from learning and growing.
Remain receptive and respectful. This is probably the toughest thing to do, but you have to be open and listen to what others have to say. In fact, try listening twice as much as speaking. Just as your experience is your truth, you must acknowledge and trust that other people’s experiences are their truths. Everyone won’t agree on everything, and that’s okay. Just do your best to make sure everyone feels safe and that their voices are valid and valued.
The three Rs are not an exhaustive list, but a starting point to doing some challenging yet important work. What are some things you do to engage in tough conversations and lean into the discomfort? Comment below!