Fiction friction occurs when I scrape my imagined reality up against someone who has created a different narrative. If I rub my centrist, libertarian, ideological promiscuity up against your socialist, environmentalist, feminism or your socially conservative, monotheism things heat up. When I brandish a capitalist fiscal framework and you are armed with an egalitarian universalist schema a battle is likely to ensue. Is there a way to overcome the Us/Them divide? I have asked dozens of friends and colleagues, reached out to influencers in numerous fields and pressed my memory for times when the chasm was successfully closed. The usual approach is to seek common ground and work from those moments of agreement forward rather than backward. One of my closest friends was once an adversary who I held in extreme prejudice. She stood in front of me in presentations to authorities and governing bodies decrying the position I was soon to take and defending the status quo as beneficial to those she represented. We didn’t share the same worldview, we didn’t share ideology, and we didn’t share collegial conversation. Seven years ago, a common friend invited us, separately, to a fundraising event and then sat us together at a table off to the side. The interaction started aggressively with each of us staking and defending a macro position. Our common friend said ” You are both better than that, start over again.” We did. I asked ” what is the most important issue that we are facing, today?” Her response wasn’t terribly different from what mine would have been and that evening over a pint or two, we debated, discussed, defended with curiousity and respect and arrived at a 12 point plan to make our corner of the world a better place. The goals were the same even as the approaches were different. I learned that I/we can’t build bridges if we stand on opposite sides of the divide and hurl accusations and insults at each other. We don’t often agree but we share life together, when we can, trying to understand the other and holding one another with affection and admiration. Finding common ground didn’t remove the friction but it helped me understand why her fiction was so different from mine. I have shifted my perspective on some ideas and she has altered her position on some. We still create some heat when we meet but we don’t hold grudges and we lead with grace. Inside respectful differences lies the as yet unimagined. We can fear it as unknown or use the tension to spark and ignite a different way.
I am not suggesting collaboration or even cooperation as a predictable approach to problem-solving. We do need to demand enough diversity of opinion and approach in our lives in order to overcome the inertia of mediocrity that we live in. I need to understand how someone that I dislike because of our differences can possibly think what they think. I am unable to battle racist tendencies if I am unaware of or refuse to acknowledge the reasoning and arguments of a racist. We can’t overcome wicked problems by blaming the victims but we can’t really solve them without understanding how we are all complicit (including the victims). Even typing the parenthetic bit, I realize that it will cause friction with many readers and would outrage colleagues if I said it out loud in a meeting. How can we warm up the discussions without burning up social and political capital? I am learning the lesson and still usually err on the side of too much fuel to the fire.But I have also been involved in far too many debates where all we hear is our own voices bouncing off the walls and faces in the room.
Have you experienced fiction friction this week? Is the broken world we live in adding constructive or destructive flames? Do you need permission to be provocative in your proximate relationships? Do we need a reminder to redress with respect and to listen with attention and intent to understand? Can I enter a discussion without wondering or worrying about winners and losers?
This morning I had three coaching sessions where I was able to practice controlled burn and saw all three clients react with their own measured, heated response. I learned something new, they committed to doing something different and we left the sessions without anyone feeling injured or insulted. The experience leaves me hopeful that we can intentionally change how we rub up against each other without becoming too smooth or being erased completly.
Make Today Remarkably Hot,