Enjoying Our Big, Raucous, Bickering American Family

by Debilyn Molineaux

Most of the time I go on Facebook and catch up with my friends, like memes about good deeds, kind acts and videos of cats. I like to think I'm an average Facebook user.

Of course, being involved with politics, even bridge building within politics, means I am alternately praised and questioned by my friends about my work - which includes emails that challenge me to walk my talk. Today I received a response from a self-identified moderate conservative who asked me to post a story that represented her perspective. Inside the story was a narrative blaming the President for the shooting of the Houston police officer. And a large dose of anger.

Was I being trolled?

No. We all have different interpretations of current events. I know my journey has led me to be able to "try on" another person's viewpoint for a few minutes or days at a time. This started when I was a child of divorce, moving between my conservative and liberal families, trying to fit in with both. I had no idea how valuable this skill would be in my later life. Down deep, I really wanted everyone to stop fighting and be friends...or at least friendly. I still want this for our country.

Fighting over who's right and who's to blame will never result in a functional family. And make no mistake, we are a big, raucous, bickering American family.

As a self-governed people, it is my hope that we develop a capacity to hear out our different understandings of what happens around us - staying curious and paying careful attention to how our different interpretations map into what is actually going on. For example:

What happened:
A police officer was shot and killed in Houston.
Possible interpretations of what happened:
  • The President's failure to address racial issues has caused all police officers to be targets, killed in the street.
  • Our minority communities are frightened by and frustrated with their treatment by police. This anger and frustration has reached a boiling point where police officers are the focus of this frustration.
What happened:
A massacre took place on a campus in America.
Possible interpretations of what happened:
  • The gun restrictions in place prevent people being able to defend themselves - including inside classrooms.
  • The lack of gun restrictions allows too many weapons to be purchased legally or not, making these events more likely.
What happened is just the facts... Our multiple interpretations...what we decide it means and why we care...that's where drama and dysfunction live. Rather than insisting on only one true, rational way to think, what if we acknowledged that different people have different interpretations and meanings and our goal would be to hear them, deeply? What if we avoided the judgement of "I'm right and you're wrong?" So many of us have dedicated our lives to "being right" that giving up "being right" is the one of the biggest challenges we face right now.

But we can only change or transform ourselves. When we stop playing the "I'm right" game, we open up our personal capacity for transformation. I'm reminded of a poem I read years ago. I have seen it attributed to an unknown monk (no stated religion) and a Rabbi. It resonates deeply for me.

When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.
I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.
When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town.
I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.
Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family.
My family and I could have made an impact on our town.
Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.

I invite you to "try on" a different viewpoint for a few minutes. What questions would you like to ask? Be curious and consider the possibility of changing yourself.

Ms. Molineaux's mission in the world is to assist the global community in "writing" our next social contract with each other - with service to this mission leading decision making in everyday living. Her current work is at the intersection of politics, executive coaching, marketing and consulting. Ms. Molineaux works with staff, board members and other leaders inside their organizations to build "game changing" movements that shift the underlying dynamics of power, politics and participation in our country. Ms. Molineaux is especially adept at the use of "quiet power" which brings out hidden talents of volunteers and staff who become valuable assets to the organization. Projects include development and management of Living Room Conversations, serving as President for Coffee Party USA and Executive Team for The Bridge Alliance. Local Oregon work is with Ingenuity Innovation Center, a whole-systems approach and new paradigm for living.