Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 2: The Lawyer)
The following is a chapter from my book ‘Parables For The New Conversation.’ One chapter will be published every Sunday for 36 weeks here on Collective Evolution.
The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.” 2.
The Lawyer The main village road on the island of Allandon was predominantly a bright and colorful façade of shops and businesses of all different kinds. Only a few buildings in the older section were dull and run-down, and on this day the village renovator and his young apprentice were setting about gutting and restoring one of those buildings as the owner had recently died. On their way in, the renovator tapped his crowbar on the rusted metallic shingle hanging in the front that read Attorney-at-Law. “This building was owned by the village lawyer,” the renovator said. “Poor fellow, he died a lonely man. It had been years since anyone had asked him to represent them.” “Why, he couldn’t win a case?” “Quite the opposite—he never lost a case! He was so good at clearly expressing his client’s side of a dispute that the decision always went in his favor.” “So how come people stopped hiring him?” “Well, he’s really only got himself to blame,” laughed the renovator. “He would always brag that he could win either side of any dispute, which was probably true—that’s how good he was. But as a result it slowly dawned on the people here in the village that both sides of a dispute could be seen to have merit if they were properly heard. We spoke about it amongst ourselves and came to realize that if we just learned how to listen to each other better, we could resolve our disputes ourselves.” They walked into the building.
The lawyer’s office was thick with dust, and cobwebs had started to form up the sides of his large oak desk.
The renovator plopped down on the big leather chair and put his feet up on the desk. “The great thing is, we eventually learned to resolve our disputes in a way that satisfied both sides. We tried to explain to the lawyer that we had found a better way to resolve disputes.” “What did he say?” “He dismissed it. He argued that we would go back to our old ways. So he came into his office every morning and sat here waiting for clients to come in. But they stopped coming.” And you couldn’t convince him that things had really changed?” “Convince him?” the renovator laughed. “This man made his living on being right. He didn’t know how to lose an argument.” “Maybe that’s why he died lonely,” the apprentice said. Twenty years ago I thought that I was well on my way to having life figured out. I had a Master’s Degree in Existential Philosophy and I had studied the History of Western Civilization at the prestigious Liberal Arts College in Montreal. Never mind that other people didn’t always agree with my beliefs about life, I felt that they hadn’t studied enough or simply weren’t intelligent enough to grasp what I was saying. Ouch. To me a great conversation was one in which I was able to convince someone to agree with my way of thinking, through the use of relentless logic and pertinent facts. And if I could be persuasive even when I wasn’t rock-sure about my position, all the greater was the accomplishment. I once convinced one of my peers to abandon his thesis proposal after arguing that it was flawed. When I later bragged to some classmates that I knew virtually nothing on the subject, I couldn’t understand why they were not fully impressed by my feat.
There seemed to be no conversation more satisfying to me than convincing others of my point of view. Whether the other person benefited from the conversation didn’t really enter into the equation for me. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was setting myself up for quite a fall. In fact, I’ve been knocked off my high horse a number of times since then. Some of the bruises to my ego were so deep that I feel fortunate that I survived to tell the tale. One such experience happened shortly after I graduated. I was introduced to a New Age discussion group that was hosted by a friend of my father’s named Steve.
The group would discuss the work of some of the writers of the time such as Richard Bach, Ram Dass, Carlos Castaneda and others. What I found intriguing about the meetings was that, although I usually felt tired and unmotivated on my way there, the atmosphere and the conversation would always make me feel incredibly alive and energized by the time I left. When my first ten week session had ended, Steve thought that my background in philosophy would make me a great facilitator for the group’s next session. I agreed to do it on the condition that each member made a commitment to be there for all the meetings.
The previous session was more informal in this regard but I figured this was the least everyone could do if I was going to spend the time preparing for each meeting. As it turns out, they kept their end of the bargain while I ended up spending very little time preparing for each meeting. On the day of the meeting I would just think of a topic that I was familiar enough with and scratch out a few notes.
The group conversations that I was orchestrating had one simple dynamic: I would put a controversial idea out to the group and take up the position opposite to the general consensus. It seemed easy for me to argue my points.
The participants usually could provide no evidence to substantiate what they said.
They would simply say that’s how they felt or that’s what they believed, and so I left each week feeling that my arguments had prevailed. What I didn’t feel at the end of each week was the energy and aliveness that had come during every meeting when Steve was facilitating. It just wasn’t there.
The other participants might have noticed it too, but as they had made a commitment, they showed up every week without complaint. By the final week I was quite happy that the session was ending. It had become nothing less than a chore for me. As usual I presented the topic for the evening, and challenged one of the more reticent participants to give his opinion. But instead of speaking about the topic, he blurted out, “Richard, I don’t think it should be this way!” I was taken aback. I collected myself and asked him to explain what he meant, but he felt that his outburst was out of line, and he apologized. He was going to address the topic, but I asked him again what he meant by that comment. He looked around at the others, and then took a slow breath and began to elaborate. And did he have a lot to say! He had noticed that the mood during the meetings were more serious and confrontational than they had been in the past. He felt that instead of arguing and debating, we should be sharing with and understanding each other.
The more he spoke, the more embarrassed I became. When he had finished, I decided that instead of moving forward with the topic, I would ask everyone else how the past ten weeks had gone for them. I figured I would get some different opinions that would give me some ammunition to counter what he had said. But one after another, each one echoed very similar comments. I was starting to feel that my facilitation had been a stark and unequivocal failure, and what was worse, I had been completely oblivious to it for the whole ten-week session. But while their words seemed such a negative indictment of me, none of them had a hint of bitterness or anger.
They all spoke with respect and compassion, almost apologetically. When it came around to Steve, the last person to speak, he simply offered a warm acknowledgment for my willingness to sit quietly and listen to it all. It was truly difficult for me to hold back tears.
The conversation surrounding how miserably I had failed as a facilitator lasted the entire two hours of the meeting, and by the time Steve had finished his comments it was time for us to go. But instead of all running off at the end as we had done the previous weeks, we hung around outside and talked for several more hours, well past midnight. We laughed and joked and felt an unbelievable connection to each other.
The energy and lightness that I had felt in Steve’s sessions had come back. This final meeting turned out to be by far the best one that I had facilitated! The lesson was big for me, and it took months to fully sink in. I came to realize that my judgment of the participants as shallow simpletons who were lacking conviction was way off base, as most judgments are.
They just had nothing to prove, and their depth was in their compassion, their humanity, and their authenticity. This was my first real life lesson in the art of the conversation, where there didn’t need to be winners or losers, and where everyone can take something away including a real sense of connectedness with one other. I went into that facilitation thinking I had something to teach, and left realizing I had so much to learn. I now believe that we all have a strong need and a deep longing for authentic conversation, in today’s society more than ever. I spent ten weeks trying to show everyone how smart I was, but it was only when the conversation became real—when I stopped having something to prove, and people were able to say what they really felt—that there was some kind of meaningful exchange. And where there is meaningful exchange, that is where true learning can take place, and a real connection can be felt.
There is risk involved, no question about it. We have a fear of being ridiculed, of being made wrong, and so we often conform to accepted opinion even if we don’t agree with it. When this happens, it’s no wonder we leave such exchanges feeling uninspired. We have a deep desire to express what we think and explore our unique perspective on things.
There is no better time than now for each of us to look more deeply into the way we express ourselves, and no less importantly the way we provide an environment for others to express themselves.
The rules of the new conversation are simple in a way. Speak our deepest truth and allow others to do the same. We allow others to do the same when we are genuinely curious about what they might have to say. We acknowledge their triumphs and courage, and commiserate with their losses and sorrow. But this must be authentic, not some surface act of political correctness. Better to tell someone straight out that you don’t care about their story and leave the conversation. And what if we have trouble being authentic, what if we cannot help but judge other people? Then we can have that be the subject of our conversation.
The new conversation can support this—especially this—since it is honest.
The new conversation brings us close to our highest levels of vulnerability and authenticity. Of course it’s difficult to be authentic all the time, but surely we have some experience of authentic expression to draw on. When the desire is there, we all have the capability to support each other in creating a shared space of trust that is safe enough for us to be vulnerable and reveal our deepest truths. Lately I have been noticing around me that people are getting better at this way of relating to each other. We are becoming more aware of the power of creating a non-judgmental space. I love to be in a conversation with someone who really gets it, and no matter how I express myself I’m not judged or made wrong. Yes, they have their own views, which they would tell me if I was interested.
They might even invite me to try a new idea on, to see if it fits. But nothing is forced, because they don’t pretend to know what it feels like to walk in my shoes. In retrospect I realize that this was the dynamic of my New Age discussion group. I was free to be myself for ten weeks, and only when I was ready to hear a deeper truth was it presented to me. While my ego had tremendous difficulty with what each person confessed about their experience of my facilitation, there was already an implicit trust because they had all spoken with compassion and humility throughout. As a result I was able to make a crucial connection between my behavior and my not feeling energized by these meetings. Had they been judging me and making me wrong, the outcome would have surely been different. Likely I would have put up my verbal fists for a real debate. Both sides might have teetered a bit but neither side would have conceded defeat. This has long been the legacy of our society: arguing, debating, trying to prove we are right and the other is wrong, under the illusion that there is strength in being right and weakness in being wrong. But as our consciousness has expanded, we have come to see that the opposite is true. We have all felt in conversation the remarkable impact of someone admitting that they were wrong, as we have seen our impact on others when we are open to the possibility that perhaps they are right. And when we go beyond even that, to an awareness that it is not about right and wrong—that perhaps there isn’t really any right or wrong—then we find ourselves in a conversation that has the potential to unite us all where in the past we have been divided. Due to the pressure of mass censorship, we now have our own censorship-free, and ad-free on demand streaming network! It is the world's first and only conscious media network streaming mind-expanding interviews, news broadcasts, and conscious shows. Click here to start a FREE 7-Day Trial and watch 100's of hours of conscious media videos, that you won't see anyw.
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