Have you ever been asked if you “believe” in climate change? I have and it caught me off guard. Believe? Is this a theology exam? Or what about this one: do you think climate change is real? Real? Is the reality of this something I can assess? Isn’t there someone more qualified? (increasing my streak of insights from comedians to 2). As an initial reaction, this kind of question bugs me.
However, I really do appreciate the interest. So, letting go of my reactions, what do situations like this teach that can allow me bring my authentic self to conversations about important things? Thinking about what I would have liked to have been asked helps me to think about how to have important conversations.
What stands out is that a focus on my experiences with changes in climate would make a difference. "Have you experienced climate change in your life?" There I have something that I can share. “Yes, I have had experiences with changes in climate. The dog got lyme disease and a travelling suitcase brought home some hitchhiking bed bugs. Yuck! And I have noticed we get more extremely heavy rain storms, landslides and flooding...” The interest in my story allows me avoid a perceived test or having to defend a position on a topic that feels complex and difficult. It also creates space for me to ask, “How about you?” Regardless of your answer we are conversing, not declaring positions.
Sometimes direct questions in search of a "yes" or a "no" don’t serve us. They are extractive, and when we’re being extracted, we aren’t connected. Yet connection is what we need to create solutions for group problems: like invasive pests and landslides. And climate change. Connectedness leads to creativity when a conversation includes perspective taking: How about you? When we tell our own story and also listen to the perspectives of others we get into a more constructive group problem solving space. We can be much more positive and effective.
As humans, we organize our thoughts and experiences into a set of beliefs and judgments, especially about complex or important subjects. It helps us remember things and handle a lot of information. At the same time, it is our humanity that allows us to work together. Next time you find yourself being asked about your beliefs and that generates an internal dilemma, try this experiment. (1) Smile and take a breath to disarm those totalizing words (“believe”, “real”) and (2) shift to your experiences. (3) Follow up with a question about the questioner’s experience.
And when you are the questioner, and it's a situation where you want to work with someone, lead with questions about experiences and not beliefs. See if that helps to build connection, creativity and problem-solving. Let me know!
Recently, in supportive conversations, colleagues and I have related about situations in which we feel like ”Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney.” In the comedy classic from Saturday Night Live, McCartney is a guest on The Chris Farley Show, a skit portraying Farley as a talk show host.
Chris asks Sir Paul a variety of questions that inspire basically one-word answers. Throughout the interview Chris fidgets, plays with his notes, runs on with his thoughts and seems to squander the opportunity, and then beats himself up about it. His anxiety is visible and the performance is an outward display of his character’s, and maybe Farley's own, inner tumult. Who of us hasn’t been Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney at least once in our life? This sketch captures the experience of self-doubt through Farley’s comedic genius and McCartney’s good humor.
What is the consequence of listening to our doubts? One of them is to think more about what we are putting out than what we are taking in. To focus more on what we are saying than what is being said to us. We miss the chance to connect, even to our dreams and those we adore. Then we doubt ourselves even more when we later realize what we have have lost.
How do we listen to our internal dialog without letting it take over? How do we hang with our conscience and not be self-conscious? It is not so much about shutting those voices out, but clarifying and appreciating what they express to us and being able to project our full, conscious, selves.
It is fun to imagine how, if we were in Chris’s shoes, we would rephrase his interview. Of course, it wouldn’t be a comedy classic, but it would be a good exercise. It might also be a nice tribute to a talent lost too soon. So you know how Chris Farley gave us a funny, emotional, pop-culture touchstone that promotes self-awareness? Is that true?
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