Exchange students

To bring the philosophical stuff I said yesterday down to earth – The way people relate in conversation goes back to a very basic attitude. Think about the ideal model of how ideas are exchanged in Jewish textual study: Two study partners uphold the value of each others perspective so that both their opinions are put on the table. I am not more attached to the need to prove my opinion correct just because it’s mine. I have to be prepared to join with the other person to truly listen to and be engaged in carefully considering his or her viewpoint, and momentarily put my own opinion aside.

What would happen if people did this in relationships? There can be a situation where two people want different things, let’s say go somewhere else for a family outing. It’s possible for one person to say, “I don’t really want this, but because I love you and I know it’s important to you and I really do want whatever will make you feel good, so really I want it too.” On the other hand, if I have trouble dealing with any kind of conflict and because I can’t resolve it I just do what you want and in the meantime I’m thinking you owe me one, it won’t really be a good resolution of the conflict.

How can you tell the difference between whether you’re agreeing out of love or you’re silently stewing?

This is one example where if the whole thrust of how people related to each other was with true engagement it would make a world of difference to relationships. We can be like exchange students. I come from a different world and I can contribute by sharing my world with you and you come from a different world and I’m eager to hear how your world can enrich me.

In conflict situations we can borrow from this idea. I might find your opinion makes more sense and be perfectly fine with that, or I might find my own opinion has more truth to it and I could argue for it – passionately or logically – but not angrily. What makes it difficult for us to do this and what would help move us closer to an “exchange student” attitude?

Batya Yaniger

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