Yesterday's holy conversation advice was listen. Today, it's feel. Feelings are running very high in our current times, and have caused people to quit Facebook, Twitter and other social media. And made lots of us dread holiday gatherings, or even any gathering where sensitive topics might come up. The feelings we are having about them can seem overwhelming, even exhausting.
And this seems to be one problem with talking about deeper things - we listen to another espouse a view, and we hear something that makes us shocked, angry, afraid or offended, and we don't know how to handle this. Or else we react - we say something back that is simply an acting out of our feelings, and it just escalates the very feelings we are trying to avoid! And it does not lead to any deeper understanding or appreciation between us.
And that's why step two is simply to feel, and to be aware of our feelings. Sometimes it's hard to know what we feel. It's rarely 'nothing', but often enough, unless they are intense, we can be unaware of what we are feeling at a given moment. I try to stop at random times and ask myself, 'how do I feel right now?' and most of the time my first answer is 'I don't know.' I have to be really focused to get at the deeper sense of peace, or happiness, or anxiety, or whatever it is that is happening inside.
So when I am in a conversation that might be difficult, I try to be hyper-aware of my own feelings. And when someone says something that makes my anxiety or my anger skyrocket, I simply try to note it inside myself. 'I am angry', I literally say (in my head), and this gives me both some manner of control and also some insight into my part of the conversation. I can acknowledge my feelings without expressing them. I can choose how to express them. But I cannot do those things without first being aware of what my feelings are.
Part of learning to love my neighbor as myself, I think, is to love my neighbor enough to respond, rather than react, to them. And to love myself enough to understand what I am feeling.
It often seems to me that we treat feelings as somehow extraneous to the real work of getting things done, making things better in the world. We need to fight injustice, for example, never mind how we feel about it.
But I think that is exactly backwards. If we didn't hate injustice, we wouldn't be moved to fight it. If we did not feel compassion for victims, we would not care to improve their situation. If we did not love one another, we would not work so hard to live in peace. Feelings come first, then everything else. It is worth it to be aware of what ours are, and how we live with them.
So at the table, go ahead and ask your cousin how he feels about the election, listen to his response, and pay attention to how you feel. Then pass the potatoes. Until tomorrow...