In The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koenig provides new words for emotions that do not have a descriptive term. My favorite word and one that is appropriate right now, given the horror and heartbreak of George Floyd’s murder, is sonder: n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own — populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness — an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
George Floyd’s story ended last week. We watched it happen. And from the expression on Derek Chauvin’s face, it doesn’t seem that he was giving any thought to George’s story. His knee on George’s neck was The End.
It’s time to look in the mirror. Am I, are you, are we so caught up in our own stories that other people’s stories have no value or interest for us? The conversation that wants and needs to take place right now is – what can I do, all by myself (not what should they do) to warm the hearts and lessen the fear and anger of those who do not comprehend that we are all equal, who do not recognize that every passing stranger, no matter the color of their skin, is living a life as vivid and complex as our own. And as valuable.
While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of racial discrimination, any single conversation can. Still, the race conversation is scary to most of us. How can we talk about such loaded topics without getting triggered? What will make those conversations successful? To help me be as effective as possible when talking with those who see things quite differently than I do, I am listening to How to Have Impossible Conversations by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay.
‘Whether the issue is climate change, religious faith, gender identity, race, poverty, immigration, or gun control. Boghossian and Lindsay teach the subtle art of instilling doubts and opening minds.’ This is intriguing and also puzzling to me because if my aim is to instill doubt and open minds, I must be convinced that my beliefs are superior to yours. And admit it, most of us do believe that our beliefs are the right beliefs. It is hard for us to admit that we’re wrong if we’ve been wrong for a very long time. This makes it almost impossible to have productive conversations, which are so needed right now.
Boghossian and Lindsay’s suggestions are similar to those we teach at Fierce. Be genuinely curious about how people arrived at their beliefs, ask loads of questions, don’t make it about who is right or wrong. Don’t interrupt. Be respectful. And while you may never agree, it is critical to strive to learn, to understand. Until there is mutual understanding, our conversations almost always deteriorate into red faces and name-calling.
What I’m saying here is – don’t leave it up to others to improve our world. The progress of the world depends on your progress as a human being, now. And mine. Dive in, have the conversations with those who see things differently than you do. Make them fierce.