I’ve been part of a class for three years which has taught me about bridge building and why it’s so important- especially now.
There are twelve people in the class and they range widely in their diversity of viewpoints.
We have learned that we can discuss any issue, no matter how charged and that we can come out better for it every time.
We come out of these discussions feeling like we have been given a gift instead of run over by someone’s opinion that only they are right and we are wrong.
We realize we have more in common than we thought.
It’s been a revelation and a pleasure to be able to choose the words of clarity and be able to explore the things that we are constantly told to shut our minds to. Minds have been opened many times by these conversations on both ends.
Over the holidays, I’ve heard stories from more than a few people about the walls that separate us.
One friend told me that she could never work with anyone who held political views different from herself.
She is one really smart chick and I was so surprised by the narrowness of her viewpoint.
But we are constantly being instructed to throw up the walls. People on the other side are haters, liars, etc. The invective builds until we can’t stand the idea of being in a room with them just because we are following an instruction that we cannot and should no longer talk to anyone who doesn’t hold the same beliefs as ours.
That seems to be a short road to me.
I had conversations with a few others who had cut someone out of their life with no explanation.
I understand that sometimes you have to lay down boundaries that will keep you safe and that some relationships are not possible. I also believe that you owe it to the person you are leaving to tell them why and let them respond. This might be a bridge that you didn’t expect to build. It might be a short one with no future except understanding.
I had the opportunity to experience this first hand with my mom.
She was pretty difficult and I had to erect boundaries to keep myself safe.
At the same time, I came to realize that she did the best she could under difficult circumstances.
Her father left her family when she was six and like many families of that era, she probably didn’t get much of an explanation about it. The terms of the divorce were aimed to punish her father and to receive the divorce he signed away his right to ever see his children.
She always felt abandoned till the day she died. She was too afraid to seek therapy and, of course, the times played into that decision as well.
Her mother contracted breast cancer when she was 18. It was the middle of the depression and her grandfather, with whom they lived, lost his furniture factory.
She had a sister in Chicago who had married well and she urged them to come out to Chicago where she could help her sister. They went and found that the sister had no idea what real help meant.
Two years later, my mother put her mother on a train to live her last days with her own parents so her children did not have to see her die. My mother was 20 years old. Her brother was 18.
This was the backdrop for her parenting.
She was tough, critical, competitive and she had to have her way at almost any cost. She was anything but safe. She had no boundaries.
And, she gave me an outstanding childhood and the ability to have enough compassion to see the why of her behavior. Understanding her suffering helped me realize that I needed compassion to kick into my relationship with her.
At the end of her life, I found the bridge and was able to tell her that I loved her and that she had given me a terrific childhood. We found the understanding we both sought. Even though it was pretty late, it wasn’t too late.
Finding the bridges that can connect us is an important undertaking.
It takes courage and the ability to stick with something that feels way too difficult and it takes shutting out the voices that assault us daily telling us that anyone who isn’t like us isn’t worth the time of our day.
It takes patience and listening and the desire to explore all of the possibilities that lie in each conversation.