This might be the biggest ask we’ll make in the Three Practices. Being unusually interested in others is going to come a little more naturally and only requires a bit of elevation in intention. And, being willing to stop comparing your best with another’s worst comes down to a similar degree of surrendering ego and shifting focus to someone else. But, staying in the room with difference … well, here we are asking you to do the thing you are most instinctively inclined NOT to do. We are asking you to intentionally make yourself uncomfortable; to submit yourself to frustration, possibly even anger, outrage, and fear. You won’t like it … at first. Yet, if you are willing to sit with discomfort, knowing there is a purpose, you can come away from the experience with a great opportunity to expand your mind and your world, and possibly your friend base as well.
So, what does this look like and how do you go about it? If you have found yourself insulated in the echo-chamber, preaching-to-the-choir, buddy-system dialogue that seems to permeate social media interaction of late, you are going to be straining against muscle memory for a bit. When—not if—you encounter what we call an “ideological opponent,” you may dart your eyes around the room to look, first, for a comrade, and, failing that, a point of exit. What we are asking you to do is call on the curiosity you instinctively feel (or have been cultivating) in order to stick around, ask a question or two, and start listening rather than preparing your plan to take down your opponent and their “wrong opinion.”
Staying in the room with difference doesn’t mean being an antagonist, seeking out conflict. Staying in the room is about more than being around people who oppose you; it’s about being present and being willing to allow difference to remain. Our tendency when we encounter opposition is either to run from it or to try to crush it. We are asking you to sit with it, experience it, and learn from it. It’s about more than agreeing to disagree. It’s about embracing the fact that someone else may have a different perspective that is not automatically wrong just because it doesn’t resonate with yours, and then attempting to understand why their view can be just as valid.
A caveat: Within the Three Practice Methodology, we are careful to point out the challenges you may encounter—the Problem in the Practice—and we want to make sure you understand that staying in the room with difference never comes with the obligation to subject yourself to abuse of any sort or a dangerous situation. While the goal is to make every effort to keep engaging with our ideological opponents, we also recognize that some people aren’t ready for that and it is best to walk away. Use your discernment to determine for yourself who can and cannot be expected to play nice.
As you engage more in these Practices, you will find opportunities popping up in your life to apply them. This one will be particularly useful as we approach the midterm elections and holiday season. If you start now with small encounters and work your way up, you’ll be ready when you face the big challenges.