Divided We Fall: What Contortion Taught Me About Love, Listening & Facebook

My goal is to have this published in news outlets on opposite ends of the political spectrum. So, if you're reading this, I'm halfway there...

Contortion is a circus art I was drawn to because, to me, it was a performance modality that illustrated to an audience that anything is possible. During my time in contortion training, I was quick to learn that being in pain and discomfort was normal. In fact, that was how you knew you were doing it right. I was encouraged to take my body to the edge of injury and then hold that position (or in many cases, cringe and yelp as my coach held me in that position).

As I began to perform, an important aspect of my training was developing my "contortion face". This was the expression you would make in performance when you were in the midst of a painful pose or trick, but didn't want to horrify the audience with your own automatic look of horror. My contortion face allowed me to exhibit social control and emotional regulation while existing in an uncomfortable space. It seems that in this divided post-election haze, there are many people finding themselves in an uncomfortable space, but without a contortion face that allows them to listen. Instead of working towards reunification, our automatic horrified response to adverse opinion has only divided us further.

As one who is known in my social circle for minimal participation in social media, I am not the one you would expect to subscribe to the notion that Facebook mirrors society. Still, I am compelled to address the mirror that Facebook has become. In our feed this election year, it seems that many have discovered some diversity in their group of Facebook friends. Differing views used to lead to interesting comments section banter, though now spark ridiculing rebuttal or the dreaded "unfriending". We are not celebrating our diversity, we are bullying it. Our values and understanding of the world around us has been challenged, and we are uncomfortable. But instead of putting on our contortion face and asking questions, we are threatened. We run. We reject. We disengage. We even defiantly post to declare to all those we have allowed to remain our friends that, "if you are [insert belief/value/ethnicity/opinion/political affiliation], I have unfriended you. And if I've overlooked you, you need to unfriend me right now." We are living in an echo chamber of our own making, not realizing that both sides are afraid. We don't know what they're afraid of because we haven't compassionately asked. Even if we did, are we ready to listen? Or are we wearing our automatic horrified expression?

Just like in contortion, being in pain and discomfort is normal. That's how we know we're doing it right. It is my hope that we confront the uncomfortable, bring our curiosity and ask questions of those who believe differently than we do. And when we ask, that we are prepared to listen and understand where those beliefs come from, what they're afraid of. The time has come to disavow the debate and reinstate the conversation. People fight to be the winner in debates, but people engage and grow in conversations. So maybe...everybody wins? If we want to win through reunification, we all need to do some work on our contortion face. Perhaps in hiding our horror, we will become less horrified. When we become less horrified, perhaps we will become less threatened. And when we become less threatened, we can find our opportunity to become more compassionate. We are more alike than we think. We are stronger together.

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