Close encounters

I was humming along on a writing project when I heard the knock at the front door. I suddenly remembered I’d meant to warn my partner about the enormous wasp on the back porch. I was going to tell her to use the front door but she doesn’t have a key for it. I hurried downstairs fearing she’d found the wasp the hard way. But I opened the door to a stranger. Filled with relief that I wasn’t looking at my wasp-stung partner and just barely surfacing from the writing zone, I happily opened the screen door and accepted the flyer he was holding out to me.

Like the phone that I don’t answer unless I recognize the caller’s name or number, I rarely open the front door without knowing who is on the other side. I don’t fear crime because I’m fortunate to live in a place with very little stranger-to-stranger crime. Instead, I fear someone trying to sell me something because I’m a pushover.

The man in front of me was selling his candidacy to our county board. I didn’t know if we held similar views so I tried to engage him while glancing at his flyer. With little prompting he said he supports everyone having the same access to the rights enumerated in the constitution. I found that a bit vague so I asked him about a specific political issue. I disagreed with his answer and was about to tell him that when he suggested that local issues were more relevant. I thought that was fair so I asked him what he thought the most pressing issue was for the county board.

The issue he picked is one I knew little about but it gave him a chance to explain his larger philosophy. I don’t find his general political view wholly abhorrent—it is simply not the case that I disagree with every aspect of it. Recognizing this gave me the mental space to listen to him, listen to myself, ask genuine questions, and express disagreement. He said it was unusual for someone to really engage him on the issues. I’m not surprised because it was hard work to keep going and stay focused while listening, thinking, and often disagreeing. Our exchange was not heated but we both seemed a bit stressed turning a little pink and sweating. I know I felt very wound up inside and my breathing was shallow. This is what my body does when I feel anxious but I remained aware that standing on my front step he was not a threat to me, in that moment I was safe. Staying present to the moment I could be open to the possibility of an authentic encounter with another even in the face of our differences.

I checked on the issue he thinks is central to the county board and as with much that he said I think he’s offering a simple solution to a complex problem. I won’t vote for him but I appreciate our conversation and I gained some empathy for the work of being a political candidate. Whether we’re knocking on doors or opening doors, the truth is we cannot know with certainty what we’ll find on the other side.

 

What doors do you avoid opening?

How do you remain in your integrity when someone’s trying to sell you something you don’t want?

What can you do to feel safe even in the presence of conflict?

One thought on “Close encounters

  1. I confess – I don’t want to engage with someone whose views are very different from mine. I don’t feel I have the mental or emotional or empathic space to listen well. Also I have a hard time keeping facts and figures clear in my mind, so I doubt my ability to ask the right questions or present alternative points. Case in point – we were walking in our neighborhood last night when we came upon a man spraying toxic chemicals into a tree. There is a type of wasp that is killing the local birches and he thinks using clouds of Raid will make a difference. What he is doing is poisoning his neighbors, and as someone with chemical sensitivity I am afraid of the consequences to me and every living being in the neighborhood (including in the stream just down the hill). But I could not muster the capacity to provide him with alternative information or even explain my fears about what he was doing. On the other hand, I DO want to know what the local candidates think about various local issues, so maybe I could do what you did and listen hard at my own door to see what their platform is.

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