Two weeks of self-imposed peaceful isolation to write my book on community bonding and touch has created a bit of loneliness in my heart. This morning, I made the choice to open Facebook and catch up on my dear friends and family. As I scrolled down the feed, my heart sank and tears came to my eyes.
How on earth am I supposed to help us connect with each other when we cannot even use civil tones with each other on social media? I sighed, as I scanned faster to avoid the barrage of hatred laid out in front of me.
People cheat, people lie, people do bad things—not liberals, not conservatives, not whites, not gays, not the immigrants, not the millennials, not the elderly. There are hate groups, of course, but in general communities of all styles, individuals make these choices, the same way my individual friends make the choice to use tones of hatred.
My goal seeming suddenly hopeless, I stepped away from my computer and wandered aimlessly around the small house in the Norwegian valley. The windows offered the same view to the beautiful mountains, and the sound of the waters rushing down them hadn’t changed, but it all seemed suddenly worthless.
My mind drifted back to an exercise at my Blandin Community Leadership training. If only people understood how much our beliefs are actually part of our brain function.
“I am going to put you into groups based upon your Meyers Briggs results and have each group figure a way to solve this problem.” One of the program leaders said, standing in the middle of the U-shaped table formation near the front of the room.
Fifty rural community leaders, a variety of ages, backgrounds, gender and race had been chosen after a lengthy application process to learn to build and sustain a healthy community. We were learning about ourselves, where individual and organizational blind spots may be, how we interact with others, how to see problems from a higher perspective, how to build positive social structures, and how to resolve conflict. Quite an undertaking for a five-day retreat.
This should be interesting, I thought, as she divided us into three groups. The last few exercises taught us all a lot about individual roles and reactions, but this is the first big group problem-solving exercise. I smiled as everyone stood up and a cheerful buzz filled the room, as people grabbed their materials and re-organized themselves.
“Here’s the situation,” she interrupted the chatter as people organized into smaller circles, “You are on the board of directors of a nonprofit organization. Your bookkeeper, a volunteer who has been loyal, accurate, and timely for 15 years, suddenly starts making mistakes in the financials. The mistakes seem to be growing slowly, and one day it is brought to your attention that someone smelled alcohol on her breath while she was at the office. What do you do?”
She stepped back and smiled knowingly. “Does anyone need me to read that again?”
Huh, not quite as challenging as I anticipated, I thought as I turned back to my group with a thoughtful look on my face, I already know what my plan of action would be.
“Well, of course we need to have a conversation with her,” one member piped up right away. “We don’t know what’s going on or if it’s true she really had been drinking.”
“She is a volunteer,” another person chimed in. “But we do have a duty to our organization, especially when it comes to finances.”
“Yes, we definitely cannot sacrifice our organization if she isn’t able to continue here duties well, but if she needs a bit of time away from the job to deal with a personal issue, we could find another person to help temporarily,” the next comment came.
Yep, this is easy, I sat up straighter and looked around the rest of the conference room to see how the other two groups seemed to be getting on. Looks like there’s a lot of agreement in the other two groups as well, I noted, people are smiling and nodding and seem enthusiastic with their hand gestures—-at least the extroverts.
I giggled to myself. Blandin had broken our 16 types down into sub-types, giving us further insight to each category, and I could see that playing out in the room. Our group is much smaller than each of the other two, I noted. We only have about ten, and the other two are around twenty people each. That must make it a bit more difficult to come to a resolution.
“You have three minutes left. Please pick someone from your group to present your decision to the group.” The leader interrupted loudly over the animated chatter.
We hastily picked a leader, had her summarize our final decision to us quickly, and turned to the front of the room, waiting.
“Group one, please present your results.”
A prominent businesswoman stood up and projected the decision easily and clearly over the group. “As the board of directors, we have no choice but to terminate her volunteer position immediately and find a replacement. We cannot tolerate any financial impropriety in the organization, as it could cause a negative impact on our nonprofit status, our revenue, and the community trust in our organization.”
Wow, that is super harsh, I thought, stunned. No communication? No making sure that there wasn’t some other error in the system or an update that wasn’t her fault that was creating the errors? Wow. So much for years of loyalty. I know how much time that stuff can take.
“Group three, go ahead,” the leader interrupted my thoughts as I shook my head and turned my body the other direction to hear the verdict from the other side of me.
“Well,” the executive director of a nonprofit stood and faced the group. “She has had 15 years of loyal service. We thought it was in our best interest to sit down and have a conversation with her, offer her help, see if the matter was one in which she wanted to leave the position temporarily or permanently. We will give her support in finding help with her drinking if that is necessary, and do what we can to get her back on track. She is a volunteer after all, and we don’t need to jump to harsh conclusions or actions until we understand the totality of the problem.” She sat back down.
Huh, that doesn’t seem to protect the organization fast, and is completely opposite of the first group’s answer.
“Group 2?” The leader prompted.
Our spokeswoman, who worked for a large corporation, stood up and announced our decision, an exact blend of the other two. Starting with compassion and curiosity, and if the issue wasn’t fixed, to take strong disciplinary action.
Our brain wiring determines how we make these kinds of decisions. Holy crap. And my group’s brain wiring has a blend of both sides, which is why we are smaller and have a blend of both answers.
The understanding hit me as ways to increase communication and synergy to pull two conflicting sides together became clear.
Nature and nurture both influence how we see and interact with the world as individuals. The drama in the media of all sides now shapes the tone and grace, or lack thereof, in which individuals choose to share their opinions and the stories they hear.
My mom told me that if I can’t say anything nice—-don’t say anything at all. I don’t believe that is true. Communication is necessary for a vibrant community. We need to be able to disagree, to have respectful conflict, to speak our minds, to share what is disturbing us and why. However, it can be done in a curious, educational, and amicable way. Are there people spouting melodrama and hatred out there? Of course. Does that mean you need to match their tone? Absolutely not.
If something someone says triggers you and makes you extremely angry, is there a way to pause, take a breath, and reply in a manner or tone that conveys your disagreement in a way that opens communication? What kind of attitude and tone opens you to listening to an opposing point of view? Try using that.
That’s my challenge for you this week. Whether it’s a disagreement with your child, your coworker, your friend, or on social media, take a breath. Realize that everyone has a right to their own opinion, no matter what information or lack thereof informs it. You may not be able to change someone’s mind, but you won’t for sure if you attack them. Ignore those who haven’t learned these lessons yet, except to prompt them to please use a different tone.
Let’s give ourselves a chance to heal our communities and our relationships. Let’s say what we need to, nicely.
With love and hope,