Have you ever had the feeling that something needed to be said? You know, that feeling that starts as a ball of discomfort in the pit of your stomach and crawls up into your throat, making your fingers tingle and your temperature rise? If you are above the age of 3 and are in relationship with any other human being, you have most likely experienced the urge to express an alternative viewpoint, to point out a conflictual dilemma, to challenge an argument.
In many cultures across the globe, we are taught to “not rock the boat” and to “keep the peace at all costs.” Yes, our words do have great power (Proverbs 18:21) and peacemakers are called the very “children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Still, I wonder how different our cultures, how enriched our relationships, how vibrant our communication would be…if we were brave enough to have more “courageous conversations.”
Uncomfortable, but worth it!
I recently attended a training around cultural competency and conversation regarding ethnicity, diversity and race. The trainers aimed to create a “safe” environment in which the group of participants from a diverse spectrum of ages, backgrounds and cultures could divulge on issues that are often quite “touchy” in mainstream society. At the beginning of the training, we agreed to be honest with and respectful of one another. Throughout the training, we asked questions and shared personal experiences, stereotypes and fears. We learned from and extended grace to ourselves and to each other. At times, certain topics and exercises made us feel uncomfortable, but we were willing to address those areas in order to grow in knowledge, understanding and relationship. Each of the participants agreed that it was worth stepping out of one’s comfort zone for!
It can save lives!
I am reminded of a valiant young woman who risked her own life in order to have a courageous conversation. In the book of Esther, the Bible tells the story of how the simple Jewish girl was summoned to the king’s palace and groomed to become his bride. A noble advisor to the king, Haman became jealous of Esther’s cousin and plotted to destroy all Jews in the kingdom (which included the newly-Queen Esther, herself). Esther heard of this evil plan and made the difficult decision to ask the king to spare her people. The very act of calling upon the king without his prior consent was not custom and endangered her life. At a dinner she hosted for the king, she made her request, …”If I have found favor with the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my request, I ask that my life and the lives of my people will be spared. For my people and I have been sold to those who would kill, slaughter, and annihilate us. If we had merely been sold as slaves, I could remain quiet, for that would be too trivial a matter to warrant disturbing the king!” (Esther 7:3-4 NIV) Esther looked fear in the face and made a bold plee, saving her life and the lives of her people that day. Now, that’s a courageous conversation, if you ask me!
Cultivating Courageous Conversations
Here are some valuable tools to remember when starting courageous conversations:
Ask yourself, “What am I committed to in this conversation?” In other words, choose one or two words that describe the “filter” you want to communicate through. For an example, if you are committed to “love” and “acceptance,” then you would run what you say, how you respond and your body language through the filters of “love” and “acceptance.” If you are committed to “honesty” and “forgiveness,” then you would project your conversation through the filters of “honesty” and “forgiveness.” These words you choose will reflect and focus your motives and will describe the kind of experience you want your listener(s) to have in that conversation.
Write it down! In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to remember the important thoughts you wanted to share. By taking a “breather, writing down and reviewing the key points you want to share, you are more likely to articulate effectively.
LISTEN. It can feel wonderful to speak “our truth” and expose the realities that appear as clear as day to us. However, it is equally important to listen to the other parties in the conversation. “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.” (Rachel Naomi Remen) When listened to, your confidant may feel more respected and be more willing to listen to your perspective – and you may learn things about him/her that you didn’t know before.
You can only control your actions. As hard as it is to accept, we may not always get the results we want. We only answer for our own actions, our own initiatives, our own motives. It may be risky to express a viewpoint that is not popular or that has been pushed deep down for many years – only to have the other parties uninterested or even defensive. Don’t give up – you may be “planting seeds” of truth, reconciliation and authenticity. It may take some time for the other to come around.
Give yourself grace. Each of us has allowed words to slip that we regretted after the fact or just plain didn’t help the situation! Give yourself grace and don’t be afraid to courageously ask for forgiveness – and also forgive yourself.
The greatest things in life typically cost us something. It is not fun to speak the truth with the risk of unpopularity, disagreement or adversity. I believe the most powerful filter and motive is LOVE. Love will inspire us to speak up and to bite our tongues. Love will touch the deepest wounds and coldest hearts, in time. When expressed in love, even the most difficult conversations can spark a catalyst for change, healing, reconciliation, progress, (and the list goes on!) So, write it down. Meditate and pray about it. Get wise counsel. And speak the truth in love! I propose a toast – to more courageous conversations! *clink*
Bio: A globally-minded Texan, Ruth Caporello is passionate about inspiring others to cultivate and embrace the purpose and passion within them. A recent newlywed, Ruth loves to laugh, cook, travel, play scrabble with her hubby and advocate for children and families in need.