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The Story

I’m worried about visiting my brother next week. He and I are only two years apart in age (both in our sixties – how did THAT happen?) but we are worlds apart in our political and spiritual journeys.

He’s deep-red while I’m deep-blue. He belongs to an evangelical church; I’m more Theist than Christian. Those are generalities, I know, and they don’t go to the heart of the matter – they just skim the surface of our cognitive biases and beliefs.

The heart of the matter is this: Our different belief systems bite us both on the butts when we least expect it. For example, we have an unspoken agreement to forego discussions about politics or religion and, instead, chat about teaching (we’re both instructors of adults) or music (he plays the guitar; I play the piano). But oftentimes a side-comment will lead to a judgment call about one another. And then more intense emotions surface as we look at each other and incredulously ask, “How can you say that? How can you believe that?”

It’s the side-comments – the “blurts,” if you will – that I’m worried about. And I’m not sure how to stop them from happening, nor how to lessen our suffering in each other’s presence when the blurts occur. For there IS suffering: I feel judged and betrayed. He feels the same (or perhaps not – I’m not sure). And then it takes us a long while to get back to common ground, to reclaim a semblance of sibling-care.

Whenever I’m confronted with situations like these, I make lists. I plan and rehearse my responses (as if you can just pull out a response to a blurt at the drop of a hat). Sometimes the lists work; sometimes they don’t.

This time I think I’ll approach my brother differently. I’ll set an intent: to listen with compassion, to ask clarifying questions, to paraphrase, to “draw a larger circle” that includes, rather than excludes, him (rereading this last paragraph, it certainly looks like a list to me!).

Over six years ago I created the short, image-rich slides above to remind myself that, sometimes, just to begin is enough.