A good story will invite other stories. Writing The Shack taught me that. In the years since it was published, I’ve had countless people share their stories with me. Sometimes they’re happy. Sometimes they’re not. They’re all beautiful.
Since then, it’s been a small dream of mine to create a safe space to share these stories—really, for anyone to share their stories. Honestly, it’s easier said than done. We all know how unfriendly the Internet can be to people’s honest expressions of themselves.
Is it even possible? To craft a space for community and conversation free of the divisiveness of politics or religion or ideology? A space for us to explore life, God, the world and what it is to be fully human, and to do so alongside a growing group of friends?
I don’t know yet. But I have a few ideas.
My friend Jim H says, “When people love each other, the rules change.”
Another friend, Ron G, begins many of his conversations with, “At the end of our talk, I don’t want anything that is precious to you now, to be less precious.”
A third friend almost always counters a loaded and accusatory question with another question. This is not to make the other feel foolish, but to invite them to a deeper and more authentic interaction.
I’m not saying I have all this down. When someone begins waving a fist or finger and starts yelling, I have the same flight or fight response you do. I find confrontation uncomfortable but so are legitimate questions that challenge my own bias and assumptions. Sometimes the right choice is to stay and listen. Other times, it’s to simply walk away.
So here are some thoughts as we work toward crafting a free and safe space, to interact and tell our stories. These are lessons I’ve learned about how to interact with each other freely, and I’d like you to ponder them, should you have the time and inclination.
Clarify Instead of Assume: We often project and read into people’s expressions, gestures, tweets, texts and words things that are not even there. Relax and learn to ask questions that clarify and explore.
Don’t Imagine Attacks: A lot of us grew up fearful of what others thought and were shocked to discover that most of them never thought about us at all.
Encourage Questions: Questions are not the enemy. They are to be encouraged and embraced before any attempts to answer.
Love Over Law: Relationship and love will trump rules and categories (JH). When an idea or position is incarnated in an actual person in front of us—especially one we love—the conversation will radically change.
Story Over Structure: Story (experience) will trump theology and ideology. It is difficult to convince a person who keeps saying “I was blind and now I see” that they have poor theology.
Person Over Position: I love you more than the argument (RG).
Listen to Others: Listening is a necessary part of interaction. It may even be the most necessary part.
Listen to Yourself: Listening is inward as much as outward. We need to listen not only to others, but also to our own internal responses and then asking of ourselves, ‘Where is that coming from?’ When I am frustrated and irritated, someone has brought a potentially valuable gift, if I listen. They pushed my buttons and scraped the “niceness” off my decorum and civility so that real stuff shows up, and then I have to learn to do the work of dealing with that.
A Few Great Responses: “I don’t know.” “Please forgive me.” “I am sorry.”
Seek and You Will Find: If you are looking for a fight, you will find one or start one. Some folks need a war, often because that is all they have ever known.
Maintain Perspective: If you believe the other person is there to tell you about “you” then prepare for war. If we are at risk in a conversation, everyone around is also at risk.
Know Yourself: If we don’t know who we are, our assumption is that the person with the loudest voice/credentials knows.
We Don’t Have to Be Right: We can’t heal or save anyone and God does not need us to be the Holy Spirit.
Anticipate the Attack: When someone doesn’t have a good argument they will sometimes resort to character assassination (telling you who you are). If they are right, admit it. If they are not? Relax. This isn’t about you.
Understand the Conflict: In a conflict, a human being is bringing to me the gift of what they have and communicating in the only way they know how. They are not here to tell me about me unless I think they are. They are telling me about them, and what is important to them and what they’re afraid of. This is Holy Ground. Inside their presentation is a human being, who is longing to be known and heard.
Ask Away: To listen and then respond to a question with a question is something that I learned from Jesus. He did it all the time. He understood that initial statements or accusations were rarely what that person truly wanted to talk about or ask. Jesus was never at risk personally in a conversation. He always knew who he was, and in that could be present to the other.
I believe in this space, self giving and other-centered. I believe in what we’re trying to do here. I believe in your stories, and I think many others will too—people who will listen to what you have to say and find it encouraging and challenging instead of dumb or dangerous. And if you’ll be willing to trust me and the other people on here with the things that are precious to you, I believe that we can, together, create something important. At least, that’s what I think.
What do you think? Share your thoughts, and some of your online experiences (good or bad) in the comment section below. And make sure to give your email at the bottom of this page and we’ll keep you up to date on our unfolding conversation…