Have you heard about climate change? Chances are you have. I love our planet, but it’s not that climate I am focused on right now. I am concerned about the climate of the people living on the planet. Our internal temperature has risen, feeding an inferno of hatred and angst. There’s an epidemic alright, a dangerous infection of unfriending and cancelling, name-calling and finger pointing. At our core, we are melting down.
Before you read any further, here’s one thing you should know about me: I HATE CONFLICT. Yes, the caps are yelling from the page, though I detest yelling in general. I am not a yeller. I am a ‘stew-er,’ a ruminator, an internal and verbal processor when it comes to conflict. Interpersonal strife makes my stomach churn and I lay awake at night. Though I will on occasion, honk in automotive protest (I am from Chicago after all) or make a snarky remark to a customer “service” representative, as a general rule, I avoid all personal conflict — especially with people I love. I need those people just like I need the planet — for survival.
We’ve all heard sayings about not being able to change others. It’s true. We can’t, and we shouldn’t try (unless those “others” are your minor children and then it is your job to try – a topic for another day). Trying to make other people think and feel just like us is not productive nor healthy. Just like species that become extinct when the atmosphere is polluted, relationships wither and die when we contaminate our conversations with disrespect and disapproval. Unfortunately, many close relationships are now on the endangered species list due to the current emotionally-charged atmosphere. I can’t speak for those who try to change the masses’ opinion, but I can speak to how emotional climate change has affected my own close personal relationships. It’s real. It’s hard. My stomach has churned and my sleep has been affected. The good news is, it can be navigated if both parties are willing. (Yeah, that’s the sticky part.)
Let’s face it, the pandemic has only served to amplify the political and social divide we were experiencing as a country, and as individuals. So how does one navigate the raging voices that permeate all sides of current discourse? As my recently deceased 84-year-old father used to say, “We have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason.” We need to listen. That seems a little cliché right now — doesn’t it? Of course, we listen… or so we think. I’m not talking about “active” listening or even heightened listening, but rather, a deeper listening (stay with me here). After listening, we need to talk. Really talk. (FYI — social media doesn’t begin to count.) Honest, vulnerable, candid conversations about issues of the heart. It’s risky, I know. Believe me, I know.
I had such a talk just last week with my oldest buddy, my lifeline, my heart sister. Like twins, we even have our own language, yet over the years, we have come to speak different languages when it comes to certain life views. Feeling the climate change intensely, we were having a heart-to-heart about my fears of an unthinkable collapse of our 50+ year bond due to those variances. I could hardly breathe, much less talk about it. Life without her would not be as rich, as meaningful, and not nearly as much fun. In the end, there were tears. Tears of relief that we do not have to be identical to be twins.
I loved her suggestion that our friendship should be looked at through the lens of deep commitment, similar to that of a marriage. (I would like to say all relationships can be viewed this way, but let’s just start with our nearest and dearest, and those who are willing to do the work. Sometimes that’s all we get, and we’re truly blessed to get that when we do.)
A good marriage is never easy. It takes work as spouses grow, change, and evolve over the years. A solid union is made of individuals who cheer each other on to personal victories, even if those victories are not of our own personal liking. Not only that, we are to dignify and affirm the journeys our loved ones are on and defend their right to pursue their own personal path even if it “bugs us” (a bucket term for everything from slight irritation to outright fury).
For example, my husband bought a motorcycle a few years ago. I thought it was a joke at first since I have always been staunchly, no — hysterically-opposed to motorcycles. To this former ER nurse, it’s a “donor-cycle”, and I’ve taken care of plenty of donors. Ultimately, he promised to be safe, so I told him to go for it. (Of course, I made sure his life insurance was up to date. He also agreed to either come home in one healthy piece, or ride straight into Heaven’s garage. No in-between rehab scenarios allowed — my nursing days are over.) Do I love that he has a dangerous hobby? No, I don’t, but he’s a big boy and he has the right to live that out. Not only did I say ‘yes,’ I cheer him on by encouraging him to take advantage of good riding weather with fellow idiots, I mean enthusiasts; three years later, do I want to leather up and hop on a donor-cycle? Heck, no. (I tried once, but apparently cried the entire time. I’ve successfully blocked it out.) Just because biking is his hobby, it doesn’t have to be mine.
Can the same acceptance be said for all my interpersonal relationships, in every arena? I’m working on it. I really am. I know a motorcycle isn’t equal to diverging opinions on issues of politics, faith, abortion, LGBTQ+, racial justice, social change, or even masking up. However, the same principles of deep commitment need to apply when listening to those we love tell us what they want, feel, and need. Can we still be close, without being clones? If we love one another, we will not demand it.
Funny Gal Sal