A Paradigm Shift

Indiana is in the news with the Religious Freedom law signed into effect by Gov. Pence. There has been a backlash from different groups pledging to boycott the state. Both sides of this issue are pushing at each other. Neither side seems to be hearing anything but demands. Both groups appear to be demanding their lifestyles be respected.

If we look at this scenario with empathy, we can start to guess at what each side is feeling and needing. On the one side there are conservative Christians. They have been brought up in a belief system that sees the gay lifestyle as evil. Not only that, but if they were to support that lifestyle bad things would happen, either in this life or the next. Some of these people own businesses that directly interface with weddings. With the legalization of gay marriage, they are now being asked to become involved in business transactions that they have been taught are immoral. Most likely they are feeling fear and anger at being placed, in their eyes, between a rock and a hard place. They either provide services for actions that run against their strongly held beliefs, or see their ability to support their family threatened.

On the other hand there is a group of people who identify with a lifestyle that has been ostracized in much of the world for a very long time. It has only been recently in this country that someone who identifies with anything but the heterosexual lifestyle has been able to experience support in coming out. They have a deep longing to be able to be open and honest about who they are, and experience some fairness and safety about this. They just want to experience the same things heterosexuals have; the ability to love someone openly, to get married, to have a family, to have benefits of a job applied to their family and to be able to support their families in all the same arenas. They want to be valued and respected for who they are.

Marshall Rosenberg taught that if we can meet each other in an empathic way, everyone’s needs can be met. He also realized that demands always have a cost. The best way to have everyone’s needs met is through a natural giving of the heart, not a demand. A law is a demand. There are obvious parallels to the struggle for racial equality and the struggle for sexual orientation equality. In both cases there is such fear and anger about a perceived change. The answer in the case of racial equality was a demand. Laws were enacted to force desegregation. There were obviously beneficial results to this, and I also believe we are still paying the price for it. Racism was simply driven underground.

I wonder where we would be as a nation if we had used a different, more empathic paradigm. If we had tried to understand what each of us were feeling and needing. What if rather than forcing desegregation, those of us who did support it would make even more efforts to do so. We would choose to send our children to a desegregated school, we would support desegregated businesses, we would do whatever we could to support the people experiencing the unfairness of the time. At the same time, we wouldn’t force the people who couldn’t do this to do so. We would also hold an open heart to hear their struggle and needs about this change. We wouldn’t let it go, we would continue to ask to have our needs heard as well. But we would have the patience to continue to hear the others, until they were finally heard so well, and felt safe enough, to start to hear what we were feeling and needing. I wonder if we would still be experiencing, as a nation, the amount of racism we still have.

This is something we could do today for the struggle for equality regarding sexual orientation. Rather than enact laws, or respond with demands, we could try to understand the others. We could hold a safe, open space to really hear their feelings and needs. We could become creative in finding ways to support equality with as little stimulation for the other side as possible. I believe that in the end, empathy and love works. Let’s talk.

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