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Published in Frederick News Post on October 6, 2018

We have a tradition at Unity in Frederick - the 5th Sundays are “Stump the Minister” Sundays.  During the lesson time of the Celebration Service, individuals in the congregation can ask me questions – things that are on their mind or in their heart – and I will do my best to answer them.  The range of questions is wide, from what is the meaning of life to what qualifies me to be the minister.  Interestingly, I found that last question the most difficult one to answer so far.

This past Sunday was a fifth Sunday and, as usual, there were questions.  The second question was one I have heard asked often lately in other situations:  When we find ourselves in the presence of, or in conversation with, someone whose beliefs and opinions are diametrically opposed to ours, what should we do?  How should we act?

On Sunday, my initial response was to say “just keep your mouth closed.”  Then, as the chuckles and nervous laughter died away, I took a deep breath.  My second and more thoughtful response was to acknowledge that any answer to that question must be more nuanced, of course.

I suggested that we might just really want to listen to the other person, listen to understand rather than listen to respond or just respond without really listening at all.  We might use phrases like “I hear you,” assuming we are hearing, and “tell me more.”  Using these phrases with sincerity, rather than jumping immediately into respond mode may be just the thing.  Often that person just wants to be heard, just as we all do.

Of course, the follow-up comment was something along the lines of ‘yes, but s/he is so negative; the energy is heavy; and s/he makes me so angry, upset, depressed’…. pick a word.   At this point the answer really does get more complex.  Now it’s not just about “s/he”, we just added “me” into the mix. 

Several thoughts came to me after that comment.  First thought, no one can make me do anything.  It is always my choice as to how I will respond.  And their reaction to me is not about me, so don’t make it personal.   That is not always easy to remember in the midst of a heated discussion or what seems like a constant barrage of heaviness.   We have learned over our lifetime to label certain energies as good, bad, angry, joyful, etc.  Society has taught, and continues to reinforce, that certain words are demeaning, or uplifting, or hurtful, or supportive.  So often in the moment, we unconsciously react from that internalized script and it seems that the opportunity for choice has been taken away from us.  When we can take that deep breath and remember that we all come from the same source - that we are all a part of Divine Consciousness – we give back to ourselves the opportunity to pause and choose to respond rather than react.   “My brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to be angry.” (James 1:19)

Second thought, each of us, from our own perspective, see truth differently.    My truth is not the same as the truth for that person arguing so passionately for her position or belief.  And in our ‘either/or’ world, only one of us can be right.  So the next question for me would be “do I really want to understand where that person is coming from or do I just want her to change her mind and have her accept my position.  If either one of us has allowed ourselves to be defined by our position and/or belief rather than by our true identity as a unique manifestation of that Divine Consciousness, listening without the need to ‘convert’ can bring up fear and doubt within us.  Again, if I can take that deep breath, open to the possibility of a ‘both/and’ world, I find that there is no threat in deep listening and I can say, without losing my Self, I am willing to consider what you are saying.  That may be enough to help us find the field that Rumi spoke of – “Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.  I will meet you there.”

Third thought, when someone pushes my buttons, hurts my feelings, gets my dander up, I have inner work to do.  It’s up to me to find those fears, doubts, mistaken identities, unhealthy tapes that play in my head and heart that cause that disturbance in my part of the Force.  Once recognized, sourced and clearly understood in the present moment, I can make the choice to release the power that these things have over me and select new thoughts and beliefs, new perspective and actions that support the Spiritual Being that I truly am now. 
With that knowledge of my true Self, I can be vulnerable and humbly listen to truly hear the other as I stand true in the knowing that it is wholeness, not fear; oneness, not division; love, not hate that will bring peace and harmony to my world, to our world. 
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

May it be ever so.