August 2–Return Again: When We Disagree

Return again, return again
Return to the home of your soul
Return again, return again
Return to the home of your soul
Return to who you are
Return to what you are
Return to where you are
Born and reborn again
Born and reborn again

This hymn by Schlomo Carlebach invites us to return to the home of our souls.  It’s a slight amendment from the original, which say “to the land of your soul,” and we may ponder that another day.  Returning to the home of my soul is both immediately more applicable to a range of experiences for me which I might identify as “home” and more nebulous.  It’s not a place on the earth, necessarily.  As I grow older I have become aware of how important belonging is to me and feeling like I belong to a people, a group.  In some sense, then, at least one of the things that returning to the home of my souls means to me is returning to my people–however I determine who they are.

I suspect I am not alone.  Underneath all of the ugliness of this political season is, I think, this desire to belong to a people.  The inherent problem in our system is that it sets us up to identify with a people by making other groups of people our enemies.  Until recently, we have rarely heard anyone say this out loud, but over the years, it has become more common to hear folks defining themselves (and hence, their people) over and against other people:  those people who are pro-abortion, those marriage equality people, those liberals, those fascists, those racists, those socialists.  I’m sure I could not list all of the groups against which others have sought to define their own group.  I have, at times, fallen into this myself.

It always feels bad.  Defining myself over and against others always feels bad, eventually. And yet, I find it so difficult to listen to some folks talk about their brand of politics.  At the root of it all, though, is this feeling that my own soul is not at home as long as I feel that others out there who ought to be my neighbors, my colleagues, my family, and my fellow citizens are my enemies.

Recently, I read of an approach to listening promoted by a group called “Urban Confessional.”  They promote the work of listening, and they offer a way of listening to others who may hold positions very contrary to our own.  I was drawn into the description of how this works.  In short, they offer this simple approach:

When you find yourself in disagreement, just ask one question:

“Will you tell me your story?  I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”

And then, we listen.  Period.  This is not a strategy for winning our enemies over to our point of view.  When I read the article and pondered the stories of how this work is done, it became pretty clear that this might be a strategy for returning to the home of my soul.

Bob Patrick

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