There are 3 questions you should ask someone you disagree with.
Almost everyone has at least one issue they feel strongly about.
Maybe yours is marijuana legalization. Maybe it's abortion. Or maybe it's even an issue that's local to you, like whether your city should put in a trolley.
But somehow, in spite of all the information out there that you've carefully considered, there are all these "weirdos" around who feel differently than you do.
Do you say to yourself, "Ugh. What an idiot, right? How could they possibly arrive at such a different conclusion when the facts are the facts?"
And yet, thinking, caring people disagree with each other all the time. In fact, one forward-thinking lady has an idea so wild, it just might work. Elizabeth Lesser, author of the best-selling "Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow," thinks we should do something radical with people we don't see eye to eye with — take them to lunch.
To understand why, consider the story of two contentious coworkers.
They worked in a small but busy office and often grabbed lunch together. They didn't know each other very well at first, so they only talked about safe topics, like their workload and their families. They really enjoyed the pleasant conversation and company to break up a long work day. They had a few laughs and even began to consider themselves friends.
Pretty soon, conversations started to get deeper and onto trickier topics. It surprised them both to find they barely agreed on anything. Whatever happened to come up, be it women's rights, unions, gay rights — you name it, they held diametrically opposed views.
They would get in fervent matches of one-upmanship, escalating their pitch and volume until their conversations devolved into shouting matches and then huffy silence.
They stopped inviting each other to lunch. No longer did they speak to each other about anything — not even about their spouses or children. One had no idea when the other's wife fell ill. One was completely in the dark about the challenges the other was going through with her daughter.
And so they sat, with their backs to each other every day at work. They were two humans with the capacity for human caring and connection — not to mention two humans who really could have used a good friend — choosing to not demonstrate it because they were so put off by disagreeing with each other about world issues.
The two coworkers' story is a sad one, but it doesn't have to be like that.
Elizabeth Lesser is on a mission to make people of the world better able to connect with those they have fundamental disagreements with. She points out two of our inner human traits — the "warrior" and the "mystic" — and counsels us on how to set aside the warrior in order to have fulfilling connections. Yep, even with people with whom we think we can't possibly agree on anything.
Lesser wants us to seek out these people in our lives and take them to lunch. While we're there with them, she wants us to bring up these three questions or prompts (and to offer up your responses as well).
1. Share some of your life experiences with me.
More often than not, you're going to be surprised to learn you have some common ground in some aspect. When it comes to children, relationships, caring for aging parents, or other personal items, there is an awful lot of room to find something to connect on.
2. What issues deeply concern you?
Surprise! While you couldn't disagree more when it comes to abortion, maybe you are both on the same side when it comes to the vote your city is taking on its water sourcing (work with me here!). Furthermore, perhaps you're both ready to get more active in alerting your communities. You could be valuable resources to each other. Or something like that.
3. What have you always wanted to ask someone from the other side?
This is a fun exercise in identifying the distortion that can happen when we only listen to people who agree with us. Both of you will probably find that the other's perceptions really need the context you can provide in order to be more accurate. Here's what Lesser and her lunch partner discovered:
"I asked her why her side makes such outrageous allegations and lies about my side. 'What?' she wanted to know. 'Like we're a bunch of elitist, morally-corrupt terrorist-lovers.' Well, she was shocked. She thought my side beat up on her side way more often, that we called them brainless, gun-toting racists, and we both marveled at the labels that fit none of the people we actually know. And since we had established some trust, we believed in each other's sincerity."
Why should anyone take the time to do this when we could be having lunch with people we already agree with?
Lesser's argument for taking the time to do this is compelling. At some point, it becomes untenable for people to only care about and interact with those whose ideas they like. The world around us, in its everyday operations as well as coming together to solve big picture problems, needs us to learn how to be more inclusive.
In addition to her three questions, Lesser recommends setting some easy ground rules to make your lunch date go smoothly. Her full talk is worth the watch.
So what about the sad story of the two coworkers who couldn't get along?
This may have been a plot twist you saw coming, but that's actually just how their story could have gone. Luckily, Ruth and Antonin took a different path. That's right — I'm talking about Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. Instead of focusing on their differences and turning their backs on each other, they spent their energy together on their similarities. And for a great many years, they enjoyed a wonderful friendship that defied everyone's expectations.