Walking a Tightrope?

Jul 02, 2022
Walking a Tightrope - Conversations Worth Having Blog

With so many challenging and potentially divisive conversations to be had at this time, many people are feeling they’re walking on a tightrope – at home and work. How can we balance care for others, respect the humanity of each person, and yet grapple together with the tough topics that threaten to tear at the fabric of families or our nation?

Read on to see how adult siblings can make mutually agreeable family holiday plans and how you might engage others in civil discourse around divisive topics.

Yes, we went there because the Conversations Worth Having practices better equip us to shift the tone and direction of our conversations, including those we never thought we could have.

Challenge #1: Adult Siblings Trying to Make Holiday Plans

Adult siblings are trying to make a group decision about plans for Thanksgiving. This is made especially challenging because the group needs to balance ideas for where to go that is budget-friendly for families of different sizes, different incomes, and with children of different ages.  No one wants to offend anyone, which means siblings tend to “go along” and then resent the outcomes because the decisions don’t feel fair.

Name it: Siblings can’t decide where to go for a family Thanksgiving.

Flip it: The family decides about their plans for Thanksgiving.

Frame it: We have a process for family decision-making that feels fair and results in joy for all of us.

Generative Questions  

To arrive at the frame, “We have a process for family decision making that feels fair and results in joy for all of us,” this thoughtful group of Monday Kickstarters participants contributed the following questions to help create movement toward the desired outcome. These are meaningful questions someone might ask of themselves and others. The ⭐ indicates which questions really resonated with participants.

  • ⭐What’s important to me and my family?
  • ⭐What does a happy family gathering feel and look like?
  • ⭐What is a time our family came to a decision on how to come together for a family gathering?
  • ⭐What other family activities have allowed everyone to feel included in the decision?
  • ⭐How do we want to interact with each other that feels most engaging?
  • ⭐Imagine we make a decision about Thanksgiving that feels fair to everyone and then we have a blast together. It’s such a good experience, we might just do it every year. Where were we, what made this special, and how might we come to this result?
  • ⭐What traditions or rituals are associated with Thanksgiving for your family that brings joy? How about those that bring dread?
  • How do we feel about creating a pool of resources that could support family who might not be able to afford what we all really want to do?
  • What type of process or framework do I enjoy working without outside of my personal life that might be helpful here?
  • If I have to do it all my way, what would it look like to matter and be happy?
  • When was the last time the family came together and had FUN?
  • What does my soul/heart know as possible?
  • Does everyone feel their voice is valued?
  • Why do we get together for Thanksgiving?
  • Are there any special considerations, i.e. families that have a smaller budget?

Challenge #2: How Can We Talk About What’s Happening in Our Country?

Some people in our group feel our rights are being taken away and our country is declining, while others maintain change is going in the right direction. How can we engage with one another in healthy ways instead of further polarizing one another?

Name it: We’re unsure how to engage respectfully with those whose beliefs are completely different from ours?

Flip it: We know how to engage respectfully with others whose beliefs are completely different from ours?

Frame it: We have civil discourse around divisive topics.

Generative Questions  

This week’s participants went to the heart of one of the things generative questions do best; they help make the invisible, visible. The ⭐indicates which questions really resonated with participants.

  • How might you paint a vivid picture of what this frame might look like: “We have civil discourse around divisiveness topics?”
  • ⭐What do people wish to protect? Why?
  • ⭐What life experiences caused another person to develop their perspective?
  • ⭐How might I suspend right/wrong thinking to talk about complexity?
  • ⭐What do we want as an outcome?
  • ⭐What do we have in common?
  • ⭐What assumptions am I making?
  • ⭐Where are examples of others bringing together civil discourse when divided?
  • ⭐What are the ground rules for civil discourse?
  • ⭐How can we be curious AND respectful? (Both/and thinking)
  • ⭐What are people afraid of?
  • What is it that you really want around this topic?
  • How do you see this topic?
  • What would holding space for civil discourse look like?
  • How can we translate this conversation out of the civil frame into our common humanity frame?
  • Where do I have mixed thoughts and feelings and how can I best share those ideas that align with “the other”?
  • What does civil discourse look and feel like?
  • What is between the two positions of “right” or “wrong”?
  • What do I agree with about what the other is saying?
  • What value does another person find in their point of view?
  • What outcomes do you want for the country?
Bonus Resources

Braver Angels whose mission is bringing Americans together to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic. Contact them and get involved in a conversation near you! Or start one of your own.

Psychologist and researcher, Adam Grant, author of Think Again, also has valuable suggestions for how to engage in civil discourse in his recently publishes bulletin, How to Argue About Abortion.

Cool Tip

If you feel you’re up on a tightrope when it comes to having challenging conversations, it might be helpful to think of it by its other name, the high wire. Being on a high wire gives you access to the bigger picture from your very special vantage point, and along with it, the potential to create positive, lasting change. Asking generative questions broadens your view and just might change your thinking, helping you to walk the hire wire (instead of a tightrope).


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