I’ve heard it said that if there is a choice to be right or be kind, choose kindness. I love this sentiment and often encourage my kids (and myself for that matter) to think in this way. But in reality, don’t both matter? Truth without kindness tends to fall on deaf ears, and kindness without truth really isn’t kind, its flattery. True kindness comes from a desire for the best possible outcome for everyone involved. This usually entails working together. Not just tolerating someone who is occupying space in close proximity to you, but actually doing work in cooperation with one another.
From people on your team at work, to people you rub shoulders with in a shared workspace (yay coworking!), to working with and advocating on behalf of others, working together is important. As we identify needs and consider how to help, it often means working with people who are different than us. This could mean working with the person or people responsible for the problem you are trying to solve. It could mean joining someone very different than you who feels called to the same work. It could mean working to keep relationships in tact even when we disagree on a lot. We all encounter moments when differences come to the surface and we need to work together to make progress.
If working together is important, how do we accomplish the important work? These two phrases may help.
1. “Why Not Both?”
We make thousands of tiny decisions every day and most of the time we don’t even realize it. In these tiny instances “either/or” decision making is fairly inconsequential. Deciding on things like jeans or shorts, pizza or mac and cheese, and the freeway or surface streets can usually be solved easily and without much consequence. (Although as a side note: I do think mac and cheese pizza is pretty amazing. Don’t knock it until you try it. Unless you are lactose intolerant. Then definitely don’t try it.)
But when it comes to the more significant things in life where a person’s personal, religious, or moral convictions come to the surface, that is where the tensions typically arise. So when these situations present themselves, turning off the autopilot of the “either/or” thinking we use thousands of times every day can be beneficial as we work together. These delicate situations entail more thoughtful work. This is where “both/and” thinking comes in handy.
At its core “both/and” thinking and decision making starts with listening to the other perspective and working together to see if there is a way to accomplish a positive outcome for each person, rather than choosing either one or the other. This often results in the emergence of a never before considered third way (I repeat: MAC AND CHEESE PIZZA!!!). It is fascinating to see what comes of asking the question, “Why Not Both?”
For example, can a person BOTH hold their personal convictions strongly, AND respect the right of another to hold their own (differing) personal convictions just as strongly no matter how much they disagree? Absolutely. And in this very act…they can each find something on which they agree which a great place to start.
I recently heard an eyewitness report of a protest happening at LAX regarding the executive order banning travel and immigration that the President recently made. The protestors were in the way of traffic. The police came and told the protestors that if they remained in the street, they would get arrested. Shortly thereafter, it was reported that an agreement was struck between the police and the protestors. It was decided that the protestors could alternate standing in the street for a specified amount of time thus allowing their protest to remain a protest and not just a demonstration. Then they would retreat to the sidewalk for a specified amount of time before taking the protest back to the street and so on. The police didn’t need to make mass arrests and the protestors were still able to protest in an effective way. While I wasn’t there and can’t speak first-hand to the validity of this report, this struck me as an example of “both/and” thinking.
2. “Help Me Understand”
About a year ago I was feeling particularly frustrated as I found myself navigating a difficult friendship. I was seeking advice from a couple of friends and in our conversation I exclaimed, “It is just so messy!” To which they both responded. “When you’re interacting with real people, in real life, that’s exactly what it is…messy.” And in their kindness they didn’t leave me hanging, but encouraged me to use these three words – “Help Me Understand”. I now use those three words at least weekly in a variety of circumstances. Some examples: “Help me understand your thought process.” “Help me understand how you reached this conclusion.” “Help me understand what your experience is like in this.” “Help me understand what benefits you see in this.”
As we aspire to work together to advance good in the world, these two simple phrases might make a world of difference.