Saturday, July 20th, 2024

O On The Front Porch With You by Rob Lauer
Tell Me Your Story


Have you ever had this experience? You’re online and come across a social media post in which a friend, family member, or co-worker gives their opinion on some controversy, current event, political debate, or religious issue-and you’re stunned: their opinion is the polar opposite of yours. You frantically search your memories for clues indicating they could ever think such a thing, but you find nothing. This person you thought you knew so well suddenly seems like a complete stranger. And if the issue on which they’ve expressed this opinion is dear to your heart, one you consider vitally important, you might begin reassessing your entire relationship with them.

Such an experience is indicative of the current social climate-one pockmarked by divisiveness. On the one hand, social media has given everyone a platform for publishing, far and wide, their opinions on any subject, from the trivial to the monumental. On the other hand, too many of us seem willing to argue with, attack, and even end relationships with those whose opinions are the opposite of our own. The divisiveness has become so volatile that over the past year, Facebook no longer allows people to list their political or religious affiliations in their online profiles. Even when the old adage “Never discuss politics or religion in polite society” held sway, people could still acknowledge that Uncle Joe was a Republican, Aunt Minnie was a Democrat, Cousin Mary was a Fundamentalist, and Nephew Fred was an atheist. Now, ironically, when there are no taboos on which subjects can be broached, merely claiming a political or religious affiliation can start an argument.

So, what do we do when someone we care for and think we know well expresses opinions and convictions that are fundamentally at odds with our own? Do we slowly back out of the relationship? Do we end it abruptly? Do we challenge them-point out “the errors of their way” and try to “bring them around?” All of these options only add to the divisiveness.

What if, instead, we said to this person (preferably face-to-face and in person), “So, tell me how you came to think and believe this?” We’re not asking them to justify or defend their opinion or beliefs. We’re asking them to tell us the story of how they came to those convictions.

As they tell us their story, we could listen, not in an attempt to discredit their experiences or to come up with a defense of our opinions, but with no aim other than to understand them better. As they reveal the details of their story, we might ask them, “How did that make you feel?”-and we could imagine ourselves in their situation at that time and, given those circumstances, how we might have felt.

In the end, opinions aren’t likely to change, but the aim isn’t to change minds but to experience the personal journey of someone we assumed we already knew.

Rob Lauer is an award-winning, nationally-produced and published playwright with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry. His national credits include production work for MGA Films, Time/Warner TV, The Learning Channel and The History Channel. Locally, Rob has been producing, directing and hosting three TV series for PCTV (the City of Portsmouth’s official channel) since 2011.