Asking the right questions is essential to proactive facilitation of interfaith conversation. Before most Coffee and Conversations (our weekly small group discussion), I dedicate at least 15 focused minutes making sure the questions I ask will drive the conversation in a story-focused, worldview-oriented direction. But for our November 9th Coffee and Conversation, which fell the day after 2016’s election results, there was no questioning what the question would be: How do you feel?
And that was the only question.
Why didn’t we ask what people thought instead? We are on a public university campus after all…shouldn’t thought take place over feelings? Don’t feelings lead to greater division, because they aren’t based in reason? Here’s the thing: many of us already know our feelings have a tendency to be irrational, so when conversations start from feelings there is naturally more flexibility. Unlike “pro-life”, “Democrat”, or [insert campaign slogan here], words such as “fear”, “anger”, “hope”, and “love” aren’t owned by any ideology. As divisive as feelings can be, understanding the roots of another’s feelings, even if their ideas are different from yours is the key to bridge building.
Bringing feelings forward can make us feel vulnerable. Many participants in the conversation had their hands folded at the start. But as it became more and more okay to just feel–to be vulnerable without fear of reprisal–the hands slowly became unfolded. More speakers began to participate, to lean in, to cry. Focusing on feelings made this, our largest Coffee and Conversation of the year, a circle of healing. After the conversation, hugs were abundant and wholesomely bipartisan.