Thursday, 12 December 2013

Circles of Connection

Rufus May asked some interesting questions on Twitter:

 The unfiltered story belongs somewhere else. Here I'll begin with two circles and a bridge and a story that belongs to them:

I had a weird and wonderful discussion with a professor from Africa some years ago, that started when I said I was an atheist. He got really upset and insisted that I could not possibly be one, rather aggressively, I felt. And he refused to let go out the subject.

In the beginning it looked like one of those unbreachable canyons that suddenly can separate people from different cultural backgrounds, but both of us were genuinely interested in understanding the other’s point of view, and we talked on for a long time, looking for common ground … and I’m so glad we did, as we finally managed to bridge the canyon:

His was a culture of nature worship, and to him an “atheist” was someone who had cut himself off from all that grows and nurtures in the world - living in a mental Mordor, so to speak. And it had been a serious shock to hear me define myself as such a person.

So I was happy to finally reassure him: I could answer his “But you have to worship something! What do you worship?” by saying that I didn’t use that word, but I gathered energy from trees and rocks and hills and mountains, and that for me, feeling the rough bark of a tree, seeing how the tree is connected to a cycle of life, and knowing that I am also a part of that cycle ... that is akin to a religious experience.

This meeting took place at an international translation congress, and both the professor and I knew about building bridges between concepts and cultures. That’s what translators do.

Our basic assumption, even when we were upset and annoyed, was that we had two separate stories about religion and atheism. The words created different images in our minds, but they were only different, neither was right or wrong. And we did not try to convince the other, but to build a platform where we could get a glimpse of the images of the other.

But both circles have to be willing to bridgebuild, one from each side. Sometimes that does not happen. Sometimes there is instead a situation of story invasion: 

A psychiatrist once insisted that his psychiatric story about my problems of living was “reality”. I replied that everyone has a right to tell their own story, and no one has the right to invade the stories of others. And I refused to let him invade my story. 

When I rejected the psychiatric story, a medical story of borderline psychosis invaded and colonized my story so thoroughly that I could only take responsibility for my physical and mental health by staying away from the Health Services for many years. 

The current HS story is “Let’s pretend it never really happened”. My HS story is that we cannot change people or institutions that invade and colonize, but we can defend ourselves by seeing and evaluating what they do. 

We can be aware of the invasive circle, and move out of it ... if that is possible ... and I deeply realize how lucky I was to be able to do so when I needed to. And we can connect with others who also see stories of story invasion, to counteract the crippling and pervasive story of "Everything is OK, it's just your reactions that are wrong".

My third circle story is the story of my life with Partner, whom I met 44 years ago. Right now we are surfing into old age on a tide wave of fun and creativity, and we’re busy enjoying it while it lasts. We know that things change. We have had great times, horrible times, and grungy years when we lived like strangers in insulated bubbles, and we have always managed to find our way back to this:

We have an area of overlapping stories, of togetherness, sharing, common memories, common interests. 

And each of us has areas of interest, thinking, experience that the other cannot or will not share – and that is OK.

And the most painful – and liberating – realization has been that some of our stories from the grungy and the awful years are incompatible. Human memory being what it is, we cannot find common ground there, so we made a mutual decision: to place the differences in our individual spaces and concentrate on what we share on common ground. 

Works for us.

Those are my stories. I now pass the questions on to you:

How do we reconcile with each other when we have conflict?
What happens when somebody else has a different story to ours, how can we meet each other and learn from each other?

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