Crafting Difficult Conversations

By July 9, 2020

No one goes to the neighborhood block party or to the family’s Thanksgiving gathering with the intention of having — or maybe, starting — a difficult conversation. You know the one. The kind of conversation that somehow ends in hurtful words being exchanged, someone headed outside to warm up the car, and everyone with cold turkey to eat.

Conversations with our closest loved ones about topics we may not agree on is never easy. And we never begin these sorts of conversations with the intent to hurt someone, but sometimes that is how it ends up. Could there be a way to bring up difficult subject matters with our family and friends without fear of shutting them down or it ending in familial strife?

Some argue that holy moments – tiny miracles – can be found within these difficult conversations; when two humans who disagree greatly can find mutual respect, and even love, within these tough conversations, God can be found.

Rev. Tom McDermott has begun a new workshop opportunity here at FUMCFW with his longtime friend, Data Scientist, FUMCFW member, and mindfulness expert, Darryl Parker. Together, they will help facilitate conversations around the difficult themes of our day and offer techniques and practices for creating a safe space for healthy conversation in your own life.

This new group will meet weekly on Monday evenings on Zoom from 7:00 – 7:45 pm.

Tom and Darryl want to create a comfortable, albeit virtual, space for participants to feel welcome to share their own experiences, as well as offering a wide array of techniques for facilitating these difficult conversations on your own time, with your loved ones.

Darryl has known Tom from the eleven:eleven worship services for years now, and they have developed a friendship beyond their connection at church, but have never co-led a group like this before. On their own, they’ve had some difficult and inspiring conversations surrounding big issues like racism, religion, the role of science in religion, artificial intelligence, and everything in between, so they are no strangers to having hard talks. In fact, the idea for this group was sort of born naturally after sharing so many moving discussions in the past.

Darryl is a mindfulness expert and explains that, “Mindfulness has its roots in many spiritual practices, most notably, in Buddhism. It reminds us to remain connected to ourselves as well as everything around us. If we can at the very least, remain aware of our feelings that come bubbling up during these hard conversations, we can begin to let them change us. And in so doing, we can make choices about how we react during those conversations that allow us to be more connected with ourselves and to the world around us.”

Tom and Darryl both agree that the idea for this group is a constantly evolving one. In some iterations it was more of a podcast style, interview-oriented experience. But then, the idea to have this be a participatory workshop came to fruition and just made more sense. Darryl says that, “Inviting these tough conversations into our lives and welcoming viewpoints different from our own is the only way through this racially charged, socio-economic, pandemic crisis we’re all in.”

When asked about how the first two workshops have gone, Tom explains that, “The greatest challenge to having these conversations, is to approach them without any agenda. Sort of, letting go of our need to resolve something, or to find agreement (which implies disagreement from the start).”

By simply allowing space for the tensions and differences to be expressed during a hard conversation without defense or anger, we open ourselves up to true moments of holy connection. “That simple act,” Tom goes on saying, “opens the door for deeper questions and empathy instead of judgment and division. It brings us closer to experiencing the reconciling love of God in those moments of unifying difference.”

Let’s be honest, no one enjoys having these conversations. And creating understanding is never easy. By nature, we do not like to be uncomfortable, we avoid it when and if we can. Darryl closes by saying, “If we don’t lean into those uncomfortable and difficult feelings, things will remain the way they are and always have been.”

But by delving into the uncomfortable, we can begin to untangle the mystery of deeper — mindful — connection and uncover the reconciling love of a gracious God.

Tom and Darryl invite all with the desire to enter into this dialog, suspend outcome and judgement, and seek connection and understanding. Join in the conversation every Monday evening on Zoom at 7:00 pm.

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