Surprising conversations | Moment's Notice

By Maria Montalvo | Jan 24, 2018

There has been no shortage of words written about the judgments we make of each other based on gender, race, economic status, etc., and how those conclusions impact our interactions, decision-making, and actions.

I recently had an eye-opening, yet heartbreaking discussion with someone I know. This is certainly not the first time I have discussed a wide range of social issues with someone who was different from myself, but perhaps one of a smaller number of times I made a conscious decision to have an open dialogue.

He is a white male from the southeastern United States, 56 years old, in an upper-management position, and self-identifies as conservative but not partisan. I am a woman of Puerto Rican parents born in the northeastern United States, in my 40s, in an upper-management position, and self-identify as a liberal Democrat with some diverging party views.

Highlights of surprising information I heard during this discussion include:

Regarding recent reports of sexual assault and harassment and some of the responses of disbelief or discredit, he believes the actions took place and that we need to prevent it in the future.

He also laughingly said that he’d like to see a man say or do something like that to a woman like me, or a woman who can “speak up for herself.” I reminded him that it did and does.

When we discussed President Trump and the apparent “hatred” for him by certain sectors of the country, he said people spend “too much time” analyzing everything he says and does, and “I just don’t think about what he says that much.”

He said he does not connect Trump to the recent discussion spurred by the Me Too campaign, despite the “Access Hollywood” tapes, but he later admitted that he maintains his negative view of NFL football players who are charged with bad deeds regardless of the resolution.

He asked to help him understand why people from certain groups or ethnicities cannot see the wider positives in the nation, and are so focused on comments that could be construed as slights.

I asked him how he would react to a co-worker stating that he was not valuable to his employer because he is in his late 50s and no longer able to contribute at the level of younger men.

He said that person would be wrong, and he would be exceptionally offended.

To be fair, I acknowledged my difficulty not expressing my opinions forcefully, taking things very personally, believing that I am generally right about most things, and my struggle to understand the lens that others see through.

This conversation made that lens evermore important because this man is someone I would describe as generally kind, intelligent, savvy, and attempting to learn to be a better person.

During a particularly low moment in attempting to process what we talked about, I read about the Seattle Women’s March 2.0 planned Jan. 20.

The event’s organizers say this year’s march is part of a “series of conversations and events around gender, race, and politics to spark new ideas and work.”

Diversity of thought and experience is often cited as one of the keys to excellence and innovation. In everything from business to art to government, differing voices and perspectives respectfully challenging each other are proven to result in better ideas, more complete solutions, and inspiring creations.

The book about Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, the “Team of Rivals” (by Doris Kearns Goodwin), highlighted how conflicting personalities and politics allowed the president to finally end slavery and keep the country united.

The animated film studio Pixar, maker of favorite movies like “Coco” and “Up,” follows a similar model – using a “creative brain trust” of filmmakers. They institutionalized a two-hour give-and-take discussion about making the movie better.

They say they have learned it is far better to learn about problems from colleagues, and that problem solving occurs faster and with a better resolution when people do not work on their own or in groups of people like themselves.

The day after this conversation, I received an email from the man with whom I had the conversation titled, “Wow! Right on cue!” with a photo of a newspaper article about “shithole countries.” He wrote: “Holy cow! This would be funny but for the fact that it’s real. OK, you have a point!”

I nearly teared up; I was so relieved.

So if we know that in order to learn and to even identify what is at the root of a challenge, the best approach is to have open discussions with people we disagree with, and to actually listen to a perspective that we do not see, why do we not do that?

If we constantly remember our own faults and lenses, perhaps we will get better at two-way conversations.

 

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