Thursday, October 25

Crucial Conversations

In preparation for merging worlds, I'm reading a book called "Crucial Conversations." I've heard some good things about it and, if there's a high-stakes conversation in my life, it's this one.

On the first pages, the book describes a "Crucial Conversation" as one with three key aspects:
1. Stakes are high
2. Opinions vary
3. Emotions run strong

I don't know if merging worlds really counts in that aspect - at least not in my case. Stakes are high and emotions run strong, but differing opinions? I guess that since I've had years to process how same-gender attraction and the gospel fit together, and those close to me haven't had the same opportunity, it's possible... or pretty likely, if my past experiences hold true, that our opinions will differ. Yeah, it's a crucial conversation.

But as I've been reading, I've realized that this book has a much wider application. It may help me have valuable conversations with my family, but the real takeaway is in the conversation about gay rights, morality, and the world at large.

One of the first items the book highlights is the pursuit of open communication. Its basic tenet is that great decisions are made when all those involved communicate clearly, honestly, and respectfully. So the book begins by identifying conversational tactics that destroy open communication. They're divided generally into two groups - "violence" and "silence" - and extend to far more actions than I originally thought. Silence may be silence, but also not sharing what you honestly believe in the right forum, or not openly engaging in conversation because you are afraid of confrontation. Violence includes the obvious, extends to name-calling (any use of the word homophobic falls under this category, as do any any other derogatory terms used by either side), but it also includes intimidation, focusing only on your side, exaggeration, and controlling the conversation to subvert honest communication.

Controlling the conversation.

Controlling the conversation is something that I've done here on (Gay) Mormon Guy. I've wanted to create a safe environment, and I found myself looking at seemingly exclusive paradigms. Do I create an environment of complete safety - the kind of place I wanted to find when I was looking for answers - or do I moderate a more open forum of ideas from all sides? While I can see plenty of concepts in Crucial Conversations that others could apply, this hit home.

Before, in my mind, I felt I had to choose between the two. And each appealed to a different audience. On the one hand, safety for the people who were searching for answers, faith, and hope. On the other hand, discussions for the greater community at large. But maybe there doesn't need to be a dichotomy. It can be somewhere that meets both needs.

Silence and violence in conversations - name-calling, withdrawal, controlling the conversation, skewing facts, focusing only on one side - often come from fear and distrust. Fear that no one is listening, or distrust that they really care, which pushes us to shout. Fear of retribution, or distrust of others' motives and ability, and so we're silent. And, in fearing, we do the things we fear in others.

But, behind our fear, I think we have the same purpose in wanting to speak.

We want to do everything we can to help men and women, with same-sex attraction and without, find happiness. We want them to feel worthwhile, to make choices that will truly lead them to joy, and to give them the tools to overcome the obstacles that stand in their way.

We have a unified purpose. But how we see that purpose fulfilled then dictates the differences in our actions. One believes that happiness comes from the family as ordained by God, and writes Proposition 8 to support that. Another believes that happiness comes from societal affirmation, and opposes that same action. But at their core, they are seeking the same peace.

I realize that tossing off my own inclinations and fears will take a lot more work. I'm afraid of posting hurtful comments and then having to moderate a backlash of comments just as bad. Of setting a precedent of quick responses, then getting a 3-page article full of inaccuracies, biases, or logical flaws that I don't have time to point out. Of not being heard. But fear can be replaced with faith... and that's enough.

First step? My comment policy is changed. No swearing, graphic content, or outbound links to sites that support anti-Mormon ideals. I'll post comments when I read them. Then I'll do my best to make this a place where you can feel safe, and ask you to do the same. Safe enough that you don't need to call names, exaggerate, or withdraw because of fear or distrust... but instead to honestly work out your own salvation in the search for truth.


  1. That new policy might turn up some interesting conversations. I look forward to them.

    The only other thought I want to drop here and now is that I'm glad you write, even though I disagree with you on a lot of things. It's easy for me to see flaws of logic in Yes-On-8 ish arguments, but more difficult to see those in No-On-8 ish arguments.

  2. I love this book. I also love the insight that "But, behind our fear, I think we have the same purpose in wanting to speak."

    I think this principle can apply in a larger sense, too, especially given the recent election. If we really believe in the principle of agency, we have to believe in giving people space to have opinions and work through their thoughts, and take action according to the dictates of their own conscience.

    What a world it could be if we could do that without name-calling, etc. Thanks for trying to create a little space in the world where hard topics can be discussed respectfully.


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