The world is markedly different based on one’s experience. Children of the Great Depression, of Civil Rights, and veterans of Viet Nam may share a bus, a church, and a government, but they live in different worlds. Conflicts that arise among people are not based as much on ideology as they are feelings.
A man who attended a business seminar I taught back in the 1980s personally remembers Charles Lindbergh. His memory of picking the morning paper off the front porch with the headline, “Lucky Lindy Crosses the Atlantic”, was as real to him as the day JFK was assassinated and men landing on the moon was to me.
The joy of the memory spread across the man’s face nearly six decades later. Everyone else looked at him and wondered at the transformation.
I remember the day JFK died because my mother cried when she told my brother and me. My mother only cried one other time in my presence.
Establish Common Ground Before You Teach
My audience was diverse in age and experience and I couldn’t get to the main content of the teaching until everyone understood that people in their workplace and community see and live in different worlds.
Even then, we had young professionals who didn’t remember November 23, 1963 or July 20, 1969. In fact, they didn’t remember any particular event because nothing touched them deeply enough to stake its place in their memory. When older folks shared the power of living through world events, you could almost see a dialogue balloon form over the younger heads, “Must have been a slow day.” Yawn.
The junior members of the audience had no frame of reference to understand the power of feelings, at least those generated by events or change.
The only way to communicate to someone the significance of something outside of his or her experience, is by engaging what everyone has in common: emotions. Maybe you’ve noticed how logic seldom plays a significant role when the genesis of conflict is feelings.
Argue some point that isn’t in line with their feelings and the other person often hears, “Your feelings have no basis.” The usual reaction to that is hurt, insult, discombobulation, or losing whatever goodwill they felt a minute earlier.
Has anyone ever told you that “you don’t really feel” as you do? That happened to me many times in earlier years. Would it surprise you to learn that it did not inspire warm fuzzies?
Feelings have power, even if you don’t share them. Emotions are compelling, even if they’re illogical. The first best step to avoid conflict is to validate the emotion. That means you admit that they are real with no value judgment attached.
It’s a beginning.
“And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”–Mark 3:25
Vision is Powerful
Why did the Invisible Man turn down a cushy job offer? Because he just couldn’t see himself doing it.
There’s wisdom in that joke. I don’t think many women my age ever worked at Hooters. I had several jobs without an obvious career-track, but my dachshund would have to be starving before I’d be a Hooters waitress.
Working at a dry cleaners over summer vacation wasn’t my dream job, but it was a great job. In 1971, I wore a white skirted uniform and white duty shoes while learning to tissue clothes and serve upscale customers. Within an hour of starting my shift I had a racetrack of sweat running from my collar to my backside.
I could see me doing that job. The uniform and duty shoes made me feel like I was somebody and the owner was a classy woman who LOVED Paul Newman. Hooters? Nope.
The Day the Towers Fell
The last day of national unity in the USA was September 11, 2001, the day two hijacked jets reduced the Twin Towers in Manhattan to toxic rubble.
I remember watching with horror and momentary disbelief on the television to the left of the massive rock see-through fireplace in our living room. Along with the images on the television screen, I’ll never forget the way the room looked.
Do you remember? There are approximately 90 million people in the United States who don’t. That’s more than 27 percent of the present population. Almost 100 million people are too young to remember when you would carry anything you wanted onto an airplane, you could say goodbye at the gate, and only the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted were detained by TSA.
More than 57 million of the folks old enough to be in the workforce today are too young to remember the day the Towers fell. Why don’t they have the same feelings about jihad and Middle East tensions that I do? Because the issue has never struck them in an emotional soft spot.
Their world has far more important events than the day the Towers fell. That day may have no more emotional juice than the day Lucky Lindy landed in Paris after the first solo non-stop transatlantic flight.
Life Before vs Life After
When you remember life BEFORE something, your world is different from someone who was born afterwards. How is it possible to bring a 20-year old into my world; one where I remember life before television?
How do you bridge the difference between my world that existed before credit cards and that of college students where cash is largely obsolete? There was a time in my world when shame was inseparably attached to welfare, unemployment, or asking for credit.
Normal is Now Oppressive
Younger generations might be horrified, believing that such feelings were forced upon needy people by ogres or oppressors. Not so. At that time, it was the relative norm for every class, color, and creed.
Life experiences aren’t the same in rural America as urban America. Just because an experience isn’t yours doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Danger arises when rural folks judge urban folks, urban judge rural, or whenever one group judges another because their experiences are different.
Experience Equals Your Truth
Experience only equals your truth, not the next person’s.
No one knows what they don’t know.
Feelings matter. They are as real to the person who owns them as the light of the sun at noon. But, theirs isn’t the only truth or legitimate perspective. Whenever differences arise, everyone must have a voice. If not, differences become conflicts.
Emotions Create Common Ground
Never criticize someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’ll be a mile away and have their shoes.
The best way to get someone else’s shoes is to engage their emotions. The worst way is to take them by force or stealth. What motivates someone to do such a thing?
I don’t know for sure, because in the world I live in, that’s still stealing. All it takes to recognize that my world isn’t the same as many media and political types is to turn on the news.
Absolute Truth Exists
Absolute truth exists, but declaring that to someone whose world doesn’t include standards isn’t a winning strategy if you hope to establish goodwill, avoid unnecessary conflict, or build relationship.
Before arguing truth, first find common ground.
Your personal experience and ideology has little clout with someone who only sees his or her own world. Sometimes, like the gentleman who remembers Lucky Lindy, the only meeting place with an unlocked door is shared emotion.
Recognize Limitations in Others
“These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”—1 Corinthians 2:13-14
Some folks are unable to understand what you do. And there are worlds you’ll never visit.
As a New Creation in Christ, you have far more vision than people without the Holy Spirit. They only possess the human perspective, while you understand what they see as well as the higher vision of Spirit.
People without Jesus Christ CANNOT understand what you can.
Stay in Your Lane
If God sends you to reason or stand against those with ideologies that serve the darkness while you stand in the Light, He will provide whatever you need to accomplish His purpose.
The kicker is that He doesn’t always tell us what His purpose is. We obey, and He handles the big stuff. Each of us has the same assignment today; obey the Holy Spirit and stay in our own lane.
Serving or speaking where you haven’t been placed is more likely to interfere with God’s assigned ambassador than bring Him glory.
Do your best to leave each person better off than you found them, even if your encounter is nothing more than meeting their eyes in Walmart. Emotions, both positive and negative, are often triggered in a microsecond.
Be aware. Bless others. Honor God. You are His ambassador.
Division is never the solution to disunity among people of good will.
In any event, be a Peacemaker.
Related post: The Reason for Conflict–US vs THEM
Another related post: The Greatest Lie Ever Told