He stomped out and slammed the door, and those left in the room sat in silence. The discussion had been intense, but civil. The conversation, however, was clearly moving in the opposite direction of the angry – now absent – colleague. As the facilitator, I held the silence for a couple of minutes before asking, “How would you all like to proceed?” Another brief period of silence before someone spoke up, “I think we were getting to our desired outcome of consensus, let’s continue.”
Driving away from the meeting I kept replaying the scene in my mind. Good work had taken place in the beginning of the gathering, with the group agreeing that we would work to achieve consensus. As expected, there was a broad diversity of perspectives for the topic at hand. And likewise, there were also varying degrees of emotional energy in expressing those perspectives. Yet the entire conversation appeared on all accounts to be respectful.
I then began to reflect on my own behavior in similar situations. Times when I felt that I was in a different place than the rest of the group. I mused further about those experiences specifically where I brought a high level of emotional energy to the topic, and how that energy became the driving force rather than the presenting issue. To confess, those occurrences for me clearly became more about winning and losing rather than seeking a mutually agreed upon outcome.
From a young age our lives are filled with situations where we want things our way. And when it is does not go our way, we often react poorly: taking our ball and going home, diminishing or even demonizing others, holding on as tightly as possible to our perspective as superior.
“…all the members of the body, though many, are one body…” (1Cor 12:12) Fundamentally, I believe the error of living in this way is grounded in an individualistic rather than communal frame of reference. It is rooted in a belief that the way I see, and want the world to be, has greater value than what others see and desire for the world. Conversely, when we respect the dignity of every human being, we then see through the lens that each of us brings an important unique perspective that – when combined with others – will create the greater good for all, not just for me. . Beloved Community.
My long time friend and mentor Dean Werner used to say when he presided over the 800 diverse folks that comprised the Episcopal House of Deputies as they navigated through reams of legislation, “Community is a place where everybody gets something and nobody gets everything.”
In the end, it comes down to staying in the conversation, being open to learn from others and being willing to change your perspective.