“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.