Do you stay or do you go?

It is easy to stay in a job, a friendship, a marriage when things are good. But it isn’t always good. What do you do then? Do you stay or do you go?

There are different ways of going other than actually leaving. You can stop participating. You can “go along to get along”.

You can write out your rebuttal and then say at the end that no reply is expected, and even if there is a reply it won’t be read.

That too is leaving, that too is running away.

But how do you stay? Staying is hard. It is being willing to listen to the other person. It is being willing to engage in dialogue.

Nobody likes a fight. Nobody likes to disagree. I’ve heard some people say that they are “conflict adverse”. Of course they are. Normal people don’t seek out arguments.

But arguments happen all the time. We see things differently. We like to be right. When someone speaks their mind and it differs from your mind, what happens then?

That is “where the rubber meets the road”. That is where things get real.

Do you stay, or do you go?

In part, it depends on your investment in the situation. Can you afford to leave? How much time and energy have you put into this relationship?

It is ok to cut out. It is ok to leave. It isn’t ok to do that all the time. If you make a habit of leaving when things get hard, when things get real, then you’re making a habit of leaving.

A life filled with leaving isn’t really a life.

Stay. Stay with it when it gets hard. Stay with it, because staying with it is all that stands between you and anonymity. Stay with it because to always leave is to disappear, to dissolve.

Circle – truth

The Circle process is about a lot of things. One of those things is truth. It is about speaking your own truth, and listening to every other person speak their truth. It is about knowing your truth. It is about being OK with the idea that your truth may change. It is about being OK with the idea that somebody else’s truth may be radically different from yours.

It is about listening to yourself and to others.

It is about sitting in that space, in that circle, and really being open to what is happening.

It is about understanding that we all want to be heard and seen.

Part of the Circle process is to create a sort of group mind. It is understanding that what you see and what I see are different sides of the same thing. Just like in the story of the five blind men and the elephant, we all are groping towards an understanding of “what is”. When we share our viewpoints and our understandings in Circle, we are opening ourselves up to a bigger understanding. We are essentially creating new eyes for ourselves.

But in order to have new eyes, we have to have new ears.

We have to listen, really listen, deeply.

And we have to know our own truths in order to share them.

And those are both really hard.

We come from a culture that teaches debate, not dialogue. We come from a culture that teaches us to sit down and shut up. We come from a culture that says you have to give up your own ideas in order to get along with others. The group is more important than the individual.

Consensus sometimes means that one person yells the loudest and everybody else goes quiet. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, after all. If you stick your neck out, it might get chopped off.

We are taught that if we are all leaders, then we are going to go nowhere.

Circle isn’t about anybody being the leader, and about anybody being a follower. We all contribute. We all share. We all listen, and we all talk.

One at a time.

And that is hard. It is hard because we aren’t taught this. It is hard because we are taught to just go along with the flow. It is hard because we aren’t allowed to have our own voice in our culture.

It is uncomfortable and unusual to be in a space where people listen to us for minutes at a time.

Half the time we don’t even know what our own truth is. Sometimes our truth changes from moment to moment, with every new voice that is added.

Sometimes the hardest thing is being able to say that something is black when everybody else sees it as white.

Circle is about staying in that process, even in the awkward bits, when you feel that nobody is listening to you and nobody understands you. Circle is about staying in that process, even when you feel like you aren’t listening to everybody else. Circle is about staying in that process even when you think that everybody else is wrong, or crazy, or just plain blind. Circle is about staying even when you want to run away, even if it is only in your mind.

It is about coming back, and staying, moment by moment.

It is really hard. It is really beautiful. It is a whole different way of thinking and being.

And it could save the world.

Peacemaker – heal thyself.

I am feeling very grateful and blessed right now. I’ve just been granted the opportunity to take a class in nonviolent conflict resolution at a price I can afford. Then when I mentioned it to a member of the library administration, he suggested it may be possible to do it for free, with the library paying the difference. And then facilitate such meetings for the library. Basically, get paid to make peace and foster understanding, right where I am.

I feel like a door is opening.

It isn’t opening on its own. I’ve done a lot of work to get here.

Many years ago I was afraid to go anywhere but my neighborhood. I was afraid of driving. My bipolar disorder had scared me into staying close to home. I’d gone a few hours away from home years ago and had enough of a problem with my disorder that all my stuff had to be packed up for me and I had to be driven home. It was embarrassing. It was frightening. It was enough to keep me from traveling by myself for many years.

And then I decided that I could not let this diagnosis define me. I could not let it tell me what to do. So I started pushing myself. I started taking classes, on my own, downtown. Sure, it isn’t another city, but downtown Nashville has always scared me. Well, really it is the drivers and not the destination, but you get the point.

So I took a class called “Diversity in Dialogue” through the Scarritt Bennett center. That introduced me to the circle process, where people learn how to listen to each other openly. I took a second class to try to understand how the process works. I think that this kind of open, honest communication is what the world most needs.

I also took a class on Pastoral Care. That was far more intensive, but added to my training. It too was downtown, and it challenged me even further.

I attended a “Southern Sulha” – based on the Middle Eastern conflict resolution process.

I tutor students with learning disabilities and/or have English. I’ve done this for at least five years, most recently kindergartners.

I’ve read dozens of books to help me understand different perspectives, different cultures, and how to relate to people.

I keep taking classes and going to events that are all leading toward this goal.

It is like I am doing an independent study, and creating my own curriculum. Some of the classes have been paid for by work or my former church.

What is the thing that unites them?

Peace. Peaceful understanding. People actually listening to each other. Not debating. Being OK with having different viewpoints. There’s more, but that is a good start.

The irony? I don’t talk to my brother. Long time readers of this blog know the story. It was more peaceful to sever the relationship than to continue it. Every time we talked there was a huge misunderstanding and fight. No matter what I said he twisted it into something malicious. It seemed healthier to quit than continue.

Sometimes you have to know how not to do something in order to know how to do it. I know what peaceful communication isn’t. I know what pain results from it. And I also know it takes two to communicate.