Teachable Moments

Today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette features a story, Looking to Impart a Lesson, that discusses President Obama’s White House meeting “over a cool one” with Harvard professor Henry Gates and Boston Police Sgt. James Crowley scheduled for later today. Author Sally Kalson includes a quote from Ellen DeBeneditti, training coordinator for conflict resolution and mediation services of the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime:
“What could come out of this meeting, if it's done well, is that both sides have a better understanding of where the other one is coming from . . . resolution is not the only good outcome. Increased understanding of the other person's perceptions is also good. If there's a sense that you've been heard and gotten your point across, it's easier to be receptive to hearing the other person.”
Figures in the public spotlight are not the only ones with
differing viewpoints and teachable moments”. Families and community groups encounter these differences all the time, and life writing has something to offer in these situations. Writing and sharing stories of events in our lives, especially the touchy ones, is a powerful way of getting incidents out on the table where they can be aired and understood, paving the way for increased mutual understanding and respect.

Two things happen when you write a story. First, by getting your thoughts on paper, you make them visible and begin to forge them into a narrative, weaving them together in a more coherent fashion. Many people find things make more sense when their thoughts are out there, visible on the page, either in print or on the screen.

Second, it provides a way of getting the whole story out before discussion begins. A frequent response from a family member who reads a story of some past conflict or event is “I had no idea you felt that way,” or “I didn’t realize it affected you that way.” Had the matter been brought up in conversation, there are any number of reasons the account may have stopped short of full disclosure.

I hope today’s beer bash will indeed result in increased understanding and respect, but regardless of the outcome, I hope you’ll use your own life stories to build increased understanding and respect within your families and community groups.

Write now: about a tense situation you encountered with a family member. It may be recent or long past. The to best of your ability and memory, include your perceptions and reactions. Tell how you felt about the situation. When you finish editing the story to your satisfaction, share it with one or more family members and wait for their responses. Hopefully you'll all come to a better understanding of each other's sensitivites and points of view.


Joie said...

My vision is that the most simple example of resolution can come of this beer & pretzels symposium. We have long taken ourselves too seriously, taken sides, hidden in tribes behind a legal system - when a simplistic belly laugh can provide the short cut to understanding the experience. The new diplomacy can remind the world that not everything needs to be built into the apocalypse!

For those family situations, that are allowed to drag on too long in silence, or at the opposite end of the spectrum - on a Jerry Springer episode - mebbe Pretzel Diplomacy and the awareness of the real difficult decisions - i.e. What Brand of Beer - could become the model for nations who still feel we have to line up behind our missles, our hostages, and our pain.

Creativity Coach-Sherrie said...

I totally relate to the idea that one can not get out their complete thoughts and feelings when trying to have a verbal dialogue with family members. An ex of mine use to rip up the letters I sent him and yell "why don't you just say what you have to say?!" The truth was he dod not want to hear what I had to say and it was easier to shut me out when I spoke to him.
I shared some writing recently with family members and though I was very nervous about their reactions, it did bring about some wonderful dialogue. There were some areas where we agreed to disagree. BUT my entire family thinks that I should keep writing!
Yes! What a gift it is to write our stories down on paper and share with whomever we want.

Garret Gillespie said...

I was recently writing about an event in my life that involved other members of my family and didn't place them in a very good light. I was reticent until I realized that I needed to take ownership of my own memories.

Accurate or not, it is my memories that have molded my life. If there are inaccuracies, they can be brought into the open for discussion and correction, but for years my opinions about myself and my life have been formed from what I "saw", regardless of what others may have "seen" in the same situation.

It was an interesting revelation. Thanks for the post.

Ritergal said...

Sherrie and Garrett, thanks for the confirmation. I continue to be amazed at the unveiling of diverse areas of my life where I've been living "on autopilot." Ownership is exciting, and doesn't necessarily require changing anything -- just being aware.