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We Need To Learn To Engage In Difficult Conversations

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TRUMP PROTEST
Kamil Krzaczynski / Reuters
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A virus is sweeping the free world seemingly without an obvious antidote. Similar to driving by an accident scene, it is both, terrifying and fascinating to watch. Though I am not an American, and therefore, will not be voting in their election this year, like most global citizens I am raptly following the 24/7 media coverage of their nominations.

With each passing day, I grow increasingly alarmed by the serious and apparently infectious virus that is affecting the campaign and the world. The symptoms of this virus are presenting with unique qualities: those infected refuse to listen to the opinions of others, lose all empathy and civility and viciously attack one another and their families. Inexorably, it seems people are being drawn into this maelstrom of aggression. Anger has a life of its own. Unchecked aggression spawns more aggression and the ability to work together or to find common ground, humanity, is lost.

While the daily reporting reveals the dark underbelly of many of the high-profile candidates, the candidates themselves may not be responsible for the insidious spreading of this virus. In fact, they may have caught it from the electorate. All one need do is tune in to any local talk show to hear the name-calling the judgments, the berating and the bad mouthing.

We, the audience, though, dictate the stories. We vote with our ears and our eyes, our likes and our views. We decide what news we want reported on and sadly there seems to be a total lack of interest in platforms or policy. We have stopped regarding the sentiments of one another and instead there is a divisive lining up to take sides. The all or nothing mentality of this disease is highly contagious and both the leaders and the followers are infected.

It would be convenient to blame the candidates and express dismay at the dearth of honour and leadership, but it is all interconnected. The leaders and the followers are creating this paradigm together. Reporters simply hold a mirror up. As Margaret Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science says, "there are no independent relationships anywhere at the quantum level -- it is all relationships." In the same way that plants and molecules adapt, our systems are adapting as well. Chaos simply presents us with an opportunity to find solutions and establish a new way of doing things.

No matter where we live, we need to give up the idea of the all-powerful leader swooping in to save us.

The true danger to society though is not the way in which news is reported but rather when we stop making individual evaluations and blindly accept the views of others as our own. Like many women, I was disappointed recently with Jian Ghomeshi's not guilty verdict for sexual assault. As a survivor myself, the case brought up lots of deep emotion for me. Yet, I read as many news reports and blogs as possible seeking to understand the legal background for the verdict.

It would have been much easier to dismiss the judge as "biased or ignorant" out of hand, but I wanted to totally understand the context and reasons for the verdict. I am hopeful that from this pandemonium a new approach to sexual assault can be found, one which has not yet shown itself.

We need to learn to engage in difficult conversations, be curious about the opinions of others and open to opposing points of view. This isn't always easy. Most of us gravitate to those who agree with us rather than investigating alternate ways of thinking about things. It will be difficult to give up those conspiracy websites where one can share information with like-minded people, rather than conversing with those who might challenge our views. Though your thesis might be put at risk, the benefits of working diligently to understand another's position are the very foundation and elements of a healthy environment.

It is time to put on the hazmat suits and join the fight to battle this ugly disease. Each of us is integrally part of the lovely web of relationships. It is up to us to see things differently so that we will be able to do things differently. No matter where we live, we need to give up the idea of the all-powerful leader swooping in to save us. These leadership figures are human; let us recognize that they don't have to be perfect, forgive them their foibles and refuse to encourage the gossip fray. Let us no longer be so dependent on them and let us be followers leading by example to help create the new order.

As the famous artist and architect Leonardo da Vinci said, "Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else." We all exist in relation to one another and how we handle those relationships is critical to our health and the health of the world. The presidential candidates and the electorate are a part of the complex web of universal relationships as are women who have been sexually abused and the lawyers and judges who govern the legal system.

A serious virus is spreading like a prairie fire over the earth. It is up to each of us, our choice. We can choose to play our parts fanning the flames of anger and aggression, or, we can divest ourselves of the old order and work towards a new way of doing things by being open, listening and curious about the points of view of others. Together we have the antidote for the virus; followers must ‎lead by example.

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