Good conversation starts with good questions and a deep desire to hear honest answers. I confess I have not always been a good listener and I have frequently asked the wrong questions.

Here are some of the unhelpful questions I want to avoid:

  • How can I convince you that you are wrong?
  • How can I irrefutably demonstrate the superiority of my position?
  • How can I get you to agree with me?
  • How can I fix you, change you, remake you in my image?
  • How can I control you so that my agenda wins the day?
  • How can I push you so far to the margins that you are rendered powerless and I no longer have to take you seriously or consider your point of view?

None of these questions will ever help me hear you more clearly or relate to you more compassionately.

Here are some questions that may be more helpful as I attempt to hear you from my side of the political, social, theological, and spiritual differences that seems to divide us:

What do we fear?

I have fears and insecurities of my own. I feel vulnerable and threatened at times. I know I do not make my best choices when I respond from this fearful place. I do not want to add to the fear in the air by pushing you into a corner, or by making you appear to be a vicious adversary.

What do we feel we have lost in these recent years of what seemed to me to be progress?

Movement forward always involves letting go. I understand how hard this letting go can be. I too have a little knapsack full of things to which I cling. We need to support one another in identifying the things we must let go of for the greater good of our community.

What terrifying future do we see down the road that must, at all costs, be avoided?

There is so much uncertainty and confusion in the world. Things change so quickly. Nothing feels stable or secure. I understand that the future looks frightening. I wonder if we can find ways to help one another feel less frightened even in the midst of the turmoil and disorientation that is our common condition.

What do we want for our children?

I believe we share common hopes and aspirations for our children. We want our children to feel safe. We want them to be free to grow into positive hopeful well-adjusted adults who can raise families of their own and contribute positively to the human community. These visions are common ground we occupy together.

What are our hopes and aspirations for the community we share?

I am sure we want the same things for our communities. We want them to be places of safety, security, mutual respect, and freedom. We want all people to feel they can realize their full potential within our communities. These are good things. We will find our way to these goals more effectively together than standing on opposite sides of an imagined fence shouting at each other.

In spite of the many significant disagreements we may have, are there ways we can find to cooperate and support each other in helping the world become a place where we are able to live together with greater tolerance and mutual respect?

While the population of the world continues to grow, the human community continues to shrink. Our lives are intertwined. What happens to one person, even far removed from where I am, deeply affects my life. We need to find ways to nurture peace and healing for all people. We can only do this if we listen carefully to one another and emphasize those places we can agree and those activities in which we can cooperate.

If together we will honestly ponder these important questions, we may find a way to the more healthy and life-giving future for which we both long.