Respectful Curiosity

As a society, do we have the ability to suspend judgment, even for a moment, and listen to and consider an opposing point of view? This is not a commentary on the current state of political affairs. I wrote this back in 2012. In fact, much of this post is adapted from something I wrote that fall.

When I conduct diversity training, one of my objectives is to have people challenge their ability to temporarily suspend their beliefs and world views in order to entertain the beliefs and world views of others in a non-judgmental way. Most participants get it, or at least pretend to. Some, however, can't break away from the mental models that have shaped their thinking.

Consider the following excerpt from a playbill for the show The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The play premiered on Broadway in 1978 and I saw it in September, 2012, in a local theatre.

“The story is not about sex, but about hypocrisy and how one person can generate a national controversy. Suddenly one person becomes a group who feels they have the right to tell you what to do and how to do it. They push agendas, opinions and mantras and make judgments. Assumptions are made without facts and opinions are broadcast in hopes of catching others attention. They don't want to start a conversation; they want to start a fire.” (Emphasis added.) (Eric Schaeffer, Artistic Director of the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia)

To borrow a phrase from Sly and the Family Stone, we’re all everyday people with a vast array of differences and similarities along with hopes, dreams and problems. Learning about each other – being genuinely curious – is key to living and working together. Our differences make us unique and interesting. We’ve got to be respectfully curious and learn about each other. We’ve got to be more comfortable starting genuine conversations than setting fires.

Blinders remain on today regarding a vast number of social issues. These issues are the basis of our current national discourse and that discourse has grown worse. We have to be capable of taking a moment to pause, suspend judgment, and have dialogue and discussion about these issues in a calm and rational manner.

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