I’m always shocked when people disagree with me. It happens often enough that I shouldn’t be surprised but I still find myself taken aback. Who me? You think I’m wrong? Well let me tell you something… And that’s where the trouble starts.
Last night I read a facebook post that rubbed me the wrong way. Something about keeping our country safe from refugees. As I read, the less I saw the words in front of me and the more I thought about my response. With each paragraph my responsibility was confirmed: the world was waiting for me to set the record straight. To compose the perfect comment, so enlightened my friend would have no choice but to concede gratefully how I’d finally opened her eyes. How she had simply been confused but now she could see clearly into the heart of the matter.
I type my comment, edit it until it’s razor-sharp, then sit back and wait. Stan will come home soon and I’m excited to show him how I had out-witted the other author. What a joy, he would think, to be married to such a wise woman.
He pulls a stool up to the computer and starts reading. I realize he isn’t sticking to my script when he starts murmuring to himself; like he’s actually interested in what he’s reading.
“Where are you?” I demand, wanting to know what is prompting him to stop and contemplate. What I really want is for him to get to my paragraph at the bottom. I anticipate him reading it aloud so we can enjoy the clever words together. Then, before any of this happens, he clicks on the mouse and my comment scrolls out of view.
“Hey, did you read what I wrote?”
After a moment he answers, “I wouldn’t have written that.”
What? Now I have to save the whole world and my husband from their folly? “What do you mean,” I ask defensively.
He explains. I dig in. He counters. I bring up more points to support my case then decide I need to go to bed. My eyes are bloodshot and red-rimmed from lack of sleep. It’s so tiring when other people don’t realize I’m right.
The next morning I get up and check my account. There are no replies to my comment, not even a like. I begin to wonder about the issues Stan raised the night before. I wonder if I should have commented. I wonder if I’m still right. I wonder why I’d forgotten my strategy–the key to coping when everyone else is wrong.
This strategy is based on two very important questions. The first is W.A.I.T. and it’s directed at myself. It stands for Why Are You Talking? It also represents a whole slew of other helpful questions like:
What is motivating my speech? My ego? Self-absorption?
Is there a chance my listener will change his or her mind? Are they even listening?
What would make me change my mind about this? Do I need more time to consider my stance?
Why do I feel so passionate? Is there an underlying issue that is more important than the one at hand?
Have I been asked to speak?
Am I over-tired?
Anne Lamott introduced me to W.A.I.T. and how she uses it with her daughter-in-law. Even though I don’t have a daughter-in-law the opportunities with this one are endless. When the young mom explains how I should train my baby to sleep through the night, I W.A.I.T. When the preacher’s words make my skin crawl, I W.A.I.T. (Well, except for the time I didn’t; I interrupted the sermon mid-sentence but I definitely should have w.a.i.t.ed. At least until the service was over.) W.a.i.t.ing is not about being a wallflower; it’s about being as wise as you are passionate.
The second tier of the strategy is more difficult than the first–I’ve probably only managed it once or twice in my life. It requires focusing on the other person instead of formulating a rebuttal while nodding and pretending to listen. The pivotal question at this stage is: Why do you think that? And when you’ve had just about all you can take, that is your cue to say: Tell me more. See what I mean about not being easy? Next time I visit with my facebook friend I’ll have to plenty to ask. Why do you think Syrian refugees pose a threat to our country? Tell me more about your experience with Islam? What do you think our response should be?
The beautiful thing about this simple yet excruciating tactic is that it’s a trick. I trick myself into paying attention and being curious. Suddenly, conflict is transformed into opportunity. A chance to understand where someone else is coming from, to get closer to the mystery of how they could possibly disagree with me in the first place. And once this occurs all bets are off. Who knows what could happen? My mind might not change, but my perspective will. What was once one-sided becomes multidimensional and more expansive than anything I’d be capable of conceiving on my own.
It’s not easy being right all the time. These tools help me cope but they aren’t for the faint of heart; controversy requires courage when I w.a.i.t. and ask questions. What’s more, it never seems to let up. Just when I’ve dealt with one scenario another conflict startles me again, whether it has to do with the federal election or a dispute with my eight-year-old. Of course it’s all very irritating in the moment, but I know practice is good for me. Especially since the only thing more insufferable than the misled and small-minded opinions of others is my failure to understand them.
Footnote: I posed for the photo above and when my daughter saw it she said, “That’s perfect Mom. You always look like that.”