talking about what matters

Bridging the divide with friends who think differently.

What Matters


As we put this odd and challenging year of 2020 behind us, I often glance at the wisdom on some stationary given to me by a friend.  It says, “Life is all about how you handle Plan B.”  We have all learned to pivot and adapt this year.  We’ve traveled less, cooked and cleaned more, done without, learned to ZOOM, prioritized health, reached out to family and friends, pared our wardrobe down to washable workout clothing, extended our attention spans, embraced water aerobics (in my case), depended on others – and lived with stress.  We appreciate our fellow citizens on the front lines of health care, food delivery – and those who sat in folding chairs at polling places despite the fear of COVID.  We’ve empathized with those who have been laid low by losses this year.  For those of us with some control over our lives, we have had longer periods of uninterrupted time than usual.  I have friends who have taken up a musical instrument or a language.  I am in awe of them.  Just living and adapting is time consuming enough for me this year.

There has been anger and frustration this year, but I think most of us have learned that we can do without museums, concerts, sports events, cinemas, plays, air travel and retail shopping if we have close friends and family and meaningful conversations – even if they are virtual.  There is compensation in reaching out, but passionate differences in perspective divide us despite strong family ties and lifelong friendships.  I think most of us find common ground in healing these divides.

In case you are trying to stay close to important people in your life whose views you do not understand and find hard to tolerate – David Brooks is a moderate political and cultural commentator who has spent the past few years listening to people, especially those who live outside of large cities and have been overlooked by reporters.  He suggests that we aspire to deeper conversations to build trust and really listen to each other.

He offers us Nine Nonobvious Ways to Have Deeper Conversations.

Here is a summary of the wisdom David Brooks has assembled:

  • Approach with awe. C.S. Lewis once wrote that if you’d never met a human and suddenly encountered one, you’d be inclined to worship this creature.
  • Ask elevating questions. All of us have developed a way of being that is our technique for getting through each day. But some questions, startling as they seem at first, compel us to see ourselves from a higher vantage: What crossroads are you at? What commitments have you made that you no longer believe in.  Ask open-ended questions. Many of us have a horrible tendency to ask questions that imply judgment: Where did you go to school? Or we ask yes/no questions: Did you have a good day? which basically shut off interesting answers. Who do you feel most grateful to have in your life?
  • Make them authors, not witnesses. The important part of people’s lives is not what happened to them, but how they experienced what happened to them.
  • Treat attention as all or nothing. Of course, we all have divided attention. In “You’re Not Listening,” Kate Murphy writes that introverts have more divided attention than others while in conversation because there’s so much busyness going on in their own heads. In conversation it’s best to act as if attention had an on/off switch with no dimmer. Total focus.
  • Don’t fear the pause. Most of us stop listening to a comment about halfway through so we can be ready with a response.
  • Keep the gem statement front and center. In the midst of many difficult conversations, there is what the mediator Adar Cohen calls the gem statement. This is the comment that keeps the relationship together: “Even when we can’t agree on Dad’s medical care, I’ve never doubted your good intentions.”
  • Find the disagreement under the disagreement. In the Talmudic tradition when two people disagree about something, it’s because there is some deeper philosophical or moral disagreement undergirding it. Conversation then becomes a shared process of trying to dig down to the underlying disagreement and then the underlying disagreement below that. There is no end. Conflict creates cooperative effort.
  • The midwife model. Sometimes people talk to solve a person’s problem.

In his search for solutions to the cultural divide  in our society, David Brooks founded Weave: The Social Fabric Project, Lead with Love housed at The Aspen Institute.  At a time when people across the political spectrum feel frustrated with leaders, Brooks highlights the ‘weavers’ among us who lead in their neighborhoods to weave more people into a social fabric and lead with love.

David Brooks’ Ted Talk about “The  Lies Our Culture Tells Us About What Matters and a Better Way to Live.

Here’s to connecting, finding common ground, and healing in 2021.