Why Try Circling? Part 4
One of my heroes is Daryl Davis. Daryl is a black R&B musician that has spent much of his life befriending members of the Ku Klux Klan, and with time, convincing them to leave. He has a room full of robes as a tribute to his many successes. He estimates that he has been directly responsible for 20–40 individuals leaving the Klan and maybe indirectly responsible for 200.
I want to be like Daryl Davis, and I have a feeling that what he is doing is really key to solving many of the problems we face as a modern society. The problem is, what Davis is doing sounds really hard and scary to me and I haven’t really known where to start.
I found a hint when I was recently listening to an interview with Shamil Idriss of Search for Common Ground. SCG has decades of experience working in war-torn countries where factions have become murderously polarized. The work they do takes great care and patience but one of the key steps they have identified is the ability for each side to be understood by the other. Crucially, this does not mean agreement. Opposite sides may actually strongly disagree with each other on important points, but as long as they can understand each other, they can make progress in areas where they do find common ground.
Davis has pointed out that this is basically what he does when he sits down with a Klan member. He gets to know them as a person, and over time begins to challenge them.
Even once you grok the importance of understanding, how you get there can be daunting. Sitting in disagreement is not easy, but Circling is one of the places where it starts to seem possible.
One of the exciting parts of Circling is watching others honestly express their personal experience and then to watch in wonder as various contrasting experiences can co-exist in the same circle. Some may feel love and connection while others feel excluded and confused. Some may feel energetic and enthusiastic while others feel peaceful and observant. As more and more trust develops, there opens more and more space to express the full range of what is happening. To be angry and loving, to be jealous and full, to be annoyed and delighted, to be confused and insightful, to be understood and to disagree at the same moment and to be okay with it all. To sit in contradictions and learn to find love and acceptance at the foundation of all of it.
Circling makes me feel like there is a way forward, that I can actually learn to let my disagreements go, both in the sense that I don’t have to let them trigger me, but that I can also express them without having to be fearful or defensive. It also gives me hope that I can have space to accept someone as they are, and learn to accept and love the things that really matter about them.
I recently had a chat with my Dad. He is an orthodox LDS Mormon. While I still identify in my own idiosyncratic way as a Mormon, I have cut ties with the LDS Church and don’t see myself ever returning. In our chat he expressed that he prays for me every day and that he will never stop hoping that I return to the church. It made me a bit sad to hear him say that, as I believe it is a hope he will never see realized, but mostly at that moment I noticed that I felt deeply loved by his sentiment. I could sit with my Dad and have an irreconcilable disagreement about the course of my life, and not only be okay with it, but mostly just feel loved and understood.
It helps that I have a father that is so naturally bursting with love, but the success I felt on my end of the interaction was as a direct result of the skills I’ve learned through Circling. It thrills me to think that this is a skill I will continue to hone. The idea that I might become a guy like Daryl Davis gives me a degree of hope so overwhelming that I don’t know what to do with it.
I think of all of the shitty, dead-end conversations I’ve had online, and the frustrating impasses I’ve experienced in real life. I imagine what it would be like to replace it with a way of being and interacting that actually moved us forward, that actually helped us find a place of common ground in the midst of the contradictions. In a world that is impossibly diverse, where the option of totalitarianism of any dogma is a non-starter, we have to find space for the infinite variety of human experience and to still, somehow, cohere together in a noble and loving way.
It may not be the final answer, but Circling is an interesting place to start.