For the past week, I’ve been sitting on a beach on an island off the Washington coast. It has been glorious! If you know anything about the Pacific Northwest, you might think I’m crazy. It’s April. It’s been a wet winter and most of my friends headed for warmer climes for spring break. Not me. Give me a cabin on a rocky beach with patches of sunshine between impending storms and I am in heaven. I suspect this has to do with some happy childhood memories of camping with my dad who loved this state and the Pacific Ocean. My adventures of climbing on the driftwood logs, building fires on the beach, and clamming were intensified by choppy seas and gale force winds. I was fortunate to marry a man from southeast Alaska who shares my love of ocean storms.
As I do most years, I posted a picture of my boots on the beach, patiently anticipating the approaching wind and waves promised in the distance.
Spring storms are my jam. #PNW, I tweeted.
To which, an author and friend, Micki Berthelot Morency (used with permission) replied, Calm before the storm! 💜
As often happens in the limited characters world of social media, I completely misinterpreted her Tweet because I was reading her response from my perspective alone. I read, YAY, calm before the storm! Though, in retrospect, I know enough about her that I should have considered other possibilities, like UGH, calm before the storm. But I was blissed out in my own little world anticipating watching waves crash and listening to the howling wind. So, I replied, Ocean storms are the best!
Here is where the real magic happened. At a time when we communicate rapidly in digital messages punctuated by confusing emojis and either ignore, unfollow or attack, Micki took the time to share her perspective:
Being an island girl, storms terrorized my childhood. I still get antsy when the sky darkens. Another example how experiences can be seen thru different lenses. Right!💜
Reading that, I imagined how frightening that must have been for a young child growing up in Haiti. Ocean storms often become hurricanes which have repeatedly devastated the country with flooding, loss of life, and destruction of homes. Her experience was the opposite of mine. Neither perspective is wrong. In fact, both of our perspectives are equally valid and right. I think we can both appreciate the rightness of the other person’s opinion for that person. That they are in opposition really means nothing. It turns out two rights don’t make a wrong.
Understanding comes through communication, and through communication we find the way to peace.
— Ralph C. Smedley
This exchange made me think about how I have responded over the last few years on social media when I disagreed with an opinion. I can see that I tend to ignore or unfollow when it comes to certain topics. (At my age, I see less and less value in using my time to argue.) I read a post or comment and think either Let it go (ignore) or I don’t need that in my life (unfollow). As a result, I have denied myself the opportunity to connect with others in a deeper sense by building understanding—mine and theirs. The truth is that on some topics I hold my position as right because I cannot see how anything else could also be right. Of course, it would be absurd (and completely wrong) for me to insist that my opinion was right in this case. Ocean storms…awesome or terrifying? Discuss. This is particularly true since Micki shared her perspective. This might seem like such a small thing. But it’s the little misunderstanding between people that turn into the big things. It is the little misunderstandings that cause us to write each other off as having nothing in common, or worse as being “wrong”.
Had she not taken the time to share her experience, I might have thought we shared the same opinion and bopped about thinking we had this whole ocean storm bond. All the while, she is thinking ‘who is this ignorant and insensitive woman’ (BTW-She would never do that because she is far too kind and compassionate). The bottom line is that I am grateful that she did share her opinion. I value her. I value her sharing her experience with me. If we didn’t already have a relationship, she might not have even bothered to share her perspective. Whether it is a relationship that paves the way for understanding or someone being willing to help you understand that results in a relationship, the world needs both now more than ever.
Here’s what I am going to commit to:
- Give others benefit of doubt and assume positive intent
- Be open and welcoming to other’s perspectives
- Accept that there can be opposite and equally valid perspectives on the same issue
- Be willing to be vulnerable and share my voice and experience
- Be grateful when someone else is willing to be vulnerable and share their voice and perspective
How can you share your voice and experience to build understanding?