Image Credit :: Pawel Czerwinski via Unsplash
Just before the 2016 election I moved to a place where the majority of people hold a very different political view than mine. And some of those people are in my family of origin.
These past four years have taught me to live with people who are genuinely different from me. I have been learning not to be in perpetual judgment and opposition. To set and defend healthy boundaries. And it is has not been easy.
Of course I want to be heard. I even want to be right. But more than that, I want to live in a world where respect, truth, dignity and peace are the order of the day. And I’m convinced that realizing a measure of that ideal requires that I listen.
Psychotherapist Esther Perel talks about the Perception Gap, a study conducted by the non-partisan, non-profit More in Common. Perel explains that, when we are entrenched in our opposing views, as the United States is and has been for years, we become increasingly binary in our thinking. We perceive ourselves through one lens and the “others” through another.
We see ourselves as complex beings, nuanced individuals. We are sensitive to our own rainbow of emotions, motivations and behaviors. We see the “others” in black and white. We call them simplistic and narrow-minded tribes. And, the reverse is also true. The “others” see themselves in all their intricate individuality and see “us” as monochrome masses.
This gap manifests itself in the workplace as well as on the social and political stage. Just think of the last time the Marketing team had to justify an expensive campaign to Finance.
So how do we bridge this “perception gap?” I believe we start with ourselves, with an honest introspection. And then, in short order, we look for common ground and common language. From there, we can build a bridge toward each other.
I work with human values, and I think this might be a place to start.
Every single person on planet Earth – regardless of age, gender, race, creed, culture, language, economic situation, sexual orientation, education, job, or political affiliation – has values.
We might begin to close the Perception Gap with an examination of our own values and an appreciation that all other humans have values, too.
I invited a friend to read this piece before I posted it, and he highlighted the way an absence of “truth” in the United States has acted like a steel spreader to keep “us” from “them.” With every act of disinformation and prevarication, the spreader turns another rotation and widens the Perception Gap.
When we talk about values, we stand in an unwavering reality: Values are as essential to every human as a heartbeat. They are always true. And that applies to every single one of us. Values offer us common ground.\
Values also provide a universal vernacular for telling our stories to each other. Storytelling has brought humans together since language emerged. Starting from the common reference of our values helps us access stories that connect rather than divide.
But a story has to be heard. To make any progress on closing the Perception Gap, we have to take the time and make the effort to listen to stories, ideas and experiences that are different from our own.
Through listening, we can open to learning about the values and stories of others and begin to bring into focus the shades and subtlety of their human intricacies and fragility.
Getting grounded in my own values is vital work in self-awareness.
Aligning my life with my values is how I live with purpose.
Acknowledging that other people – even those I don’t like or don’t agree with – also have values points the way to mutual understanding.
Working with values gives me and you common language to share our stories.
And listening – listening with intention, curiosity and courage – listening to others as they speak from our common ground and share their own values and unique stories – listening begins to build a bridge across that Perception Gap.
I know that speaking to each other about our values will not bind all our wounds or tele-transport us to a place where “truth” and “facts” mean the same thing to everyone or even where Marketing and Finance will align. It will not magically eliminate the Perception Gap.
Still – it’s a way to “start close in,” as the poet David Whyte says, and goodness knows, we have to start.
I’m redoubling my efforts to listen. To honor human values so I can see past the “monochrome masses.” To cherish my own nuances and complexity, and those of my human neighbors. All of my human neighbors.
Will you join me? We are resilient and creative and up to this. Together we can restore respect, truth, dignity and peace for everyone.
Shall we give it a go?
[Do you need a hand getting started? Please get in touch. I have tools and resources and would be delighted to work with you, your team or your organization.]
Here you'll find some of my thoughts about communication, contemplation, yoga, life and various other topics. Thanks for giving them a read.