How To Be Friends With People Radically Different From You
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by one of my dear friends, Emily Maynard. She is an outgoing introvert from Portland, Oregon. And she is not the Emily Maynard from The Bachelorette. You can follow her on Twitter at @emelina or her Tumblr: emilyisspeakingup.tumblr.com. – Lauren
I did something radical today.
One of my friends sent me a link to an article that made me cringe. It triggered my fears from my background and childhood. I started to panic and wanted to claw at my skin when I saw the title and realized the post was in support of an idea that had been used as a weapon against me. I skimmed it and started shaking.
I opened my mouth to respond, to lay out the reasons why this link triggered me, where I thought the author was wrong in nuances, and precisely how I disagreed with her conclusions.
And I had every freaking right to do that. Especially with this friend. We make infinite amounts of space for one another and apologize quickly when we collide. We have challenging but healthy disagreements. I have so much freedom in this friendship to live with my triggers and neuroses, fully accepting of the wounds of my past, and let healing happen at its own pace. I’ve learned about safety from this friendship, about trusting myself and God’s work in my life, and I’ve learned about speaking up.
I was about to dig in again to my battle place, knowing it would be alright, but for some reason, I didn’t.
I shut my mouth. I paused.
And when I started speaking again, I said something that changed my life: “Tell me why this is important to you.”
And she did.
It had nothing to do with the reasons that triggered me. In fact, even as she explained what resonated, she affirmed my right to have a different opinion than hers about this article. But she told me why it was beautiful to HER and in that way, SHE became more beautiful to me. Because she let me see her and hear her story with all its unique markings and pain and hope and love.
It wasn’t about the article anymore. It was about a catalyst to open up with each other, share what God is doing in our individual journeys, and celebrate that wholeheartedly.
This is how to be friends with people who are radically different than you.
This is why it is VITAL to be friends with people who are radically different than you. Whether they’re a different gender, race, age, religion, theological persuasion, special diet, political persuasion, sexual orientation, or anything else than you are, they are very much the same in that they have a story and it deserves to be heard.
This small experience today changed my life. It showed me how much I’ve healed and learned. I’m in a place where I have relationships that don’t require me to constantly defend myself. I can trust that there is value, not rejection, behind our differences. I’m moving beyond the shame that would require that I am always right and the other party is wrong. I’ve found a place where I can have an opinion, but I don’t have to constantly assert it out of fear I’ll be lost if I don’t.
I’ve been found. And from that found place, I can see and find new beauty so different from mine.
Want to know something else amazing? My friend noticed how I reacted when she first sent me that article. “I could tell you were having a hard time,” she said. “And I realized we each had a choice to enter into conflict or conversation.”
Did you know that? When things could get heated, both parties have the choice to enter into conflict or conversation.
Conflict stands its ground, builds walls, and reinforces dogma. But conversation involves talking about your story, listening, and humility. Conversation changes lives.
What if you believed that every person had a valid reason for his or her view?
Not that every viewpoint is equal, but that the reason something thinks a certain way is legitimate. Wouldn’t that change us? Wouldn’t that make us tell the stories that pour salve on each other’s wounds, champion justice, laugh at surprising similarities, and celebrate the diversity of God’s kingdom?
So, I’m going to challenge myself to do two things:
ONE: Build more relationships where I am radically accepted for exactly who I am, scars and opinions and all. They are unbelievably healthy and growth inducing for me. I don’t have to be stuck in spaces where there isn’t freedom to be who I am right now. My story isn’t up for debate or criticism. I don’t have to live in a place where speaking up results in rejection.
TWO: When I want to disagree with someone, instead ask what this article, opinion, heritage, event, relationship, or political view means to them. Engage with THEIR story if they are willing to share, not just MY story. My story has shaped me in beautiful and dangerous ways, so their story has probably done the same for them. Practice real listening without criticism of their story. I don’t have to live in a place where other people speaking up results in rejection.
I did something radical today.
I changed my world by listening.
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