In one of his Daily Meditations, Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplationin Albuquerque, New Mexico, wrote:

In order to live your soul into the world,
you must continuously loosen your beliefs
about who you are.

While his statement is profound and cuts to the core just as it is, some slight variations also come to me as I sit down to write:

…loosen your beliefs about
who you are supposed to be.

 …loosen your beliefs about
who other people are.

…loosen your beliefs about
how life is supposed to be.
 

Maybe it’s just about loosening your beliefs, period. I’m not saying change your beliefs, although, in fact, some of your beliefs may change as you loosen them.

By loosen, I mean to open the space around them – to give your beliefs some breathing room – to let go of holding onto them so tightly.

Loosening your hold on your beliefs gives them room to grow, to evolve, to change, and to become clearer. It gives you more space to accept and find a connection, even when you don’t agree with something or someone. When we hold on tightly to what we believe, there is no space for exploring, for learning, or for discovering another perspective.

And so, a story…

On the first leg of my recent flight to the Netherlands, I was seated beside a young man who was just a year out of school. He was working for a software company, and spent Monday-Thursday of every week on the road helping companies implement big changes in their software systems.

We exchanged pleasantries as we settled in for the short flight from Boston to Newark, and he mentioned that he had gone to school in Ohio. Being from the neighboring state of Kentucky, I asked him which school. I don’t remember the name of the small school that he mentioned, but what caught my attention was his emphasis that it was a Christian school.

We chatted a bit longer, and then as the plane took off, we both settled into our books. I soon noticed that his book was related to his conservative Christian faith. While I tried to keep my attention on my book, an autobiography of U.S. Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, I was distracted by my urge to engage him in conversation. I wanted to know about his views on what is happening in our country and, in particular, in the next presidential election. I hoped I might understand something more about another viewpoint. I also recognized that I was making an assumption about what his viewpoint might be!

Assuring him that I was not looking for an argument, but was truly curious, I asked him about his thoughts and feelings, as well as the thoughts and feelings of his friends, about Mr. Trump and where we are in the U.S. right now. What unfolded was a really good conversation between two people with very different worldviews.

As we talked and shared our differing views, as we asked questions of each other, and as we engaged with genuine interest in understanding one another, the energy between us kept softening. I could feel both of us loosening our beliefs. I spoke about my concerns for the dismantling of democracy in our country, for the decaying state of foreign relations, and the urgency of climate change. He spoke of what a great job he believed Trump was doing, and how his powerful business skills were making things better. He also quoted scripture a lot, especially the Old Testament. We even talked about what Jesus might have to say about all of this.

Yet something was happening between us. We were each giving our beliefs some breathing space, which allowed both of us to appreciate the sincerity of the other’s positions. There was no posturing or defensiveness. There was no push from either of us to convince the other of anything.

I can’t say what lasting impact, if any, our conversation had on him. But I can say that for me, something opened up inside. My fundamental worldview has not changed, nor did my feelings about what is happening in our country change. Yet I discovered a deeper understanding within myself about what I look for in others.

Through that conversation, I realized that I look for congruence and integrity. I look for whether or not people live what they talk about. I listen for curiosity, and for whether or not they are willing to ask real questions.

I discovered that my appreciation for someone deepens when they are willing to acknowledge inner conflicts that arise around their own beliefs and opinions. I fully admit that I’m not always so clear around my own beliefs and opinions, and acknowledging that nearly always opens a new layer of the conversation.

Finally, I realized how much I look and listen for how another person respects and lifts up the human spirit by how they live, and for their respect and attention to taking care of our earth home so that it may thrive.

As we were about to land, this young man acknowledged his struggle with the disparities between what he wants to believe because of his respect for those who taught him, and the realities of the lack of ethical behavior in our current president. He acknowledged that he mostly depends on his father and a couple of his friends for guidance on what to think and what to believe about how the world works. I could sense his discomfort in that acknowledgment.

As the plane pulled up to the gate, he thanked me for the various perspectives we talked about. I thanked him for being so open. He had shown me his pure heart that is struggling to find permission inside himself to find his own set of beliefs, which may or may not be the same as what he has been taught. I could sense his fear about what would happen if, in the end, his beliefs differed from some of his friends and the elders he loved and respected. I have no illusions that our conversation changed his position, nor did it change mine. However, something softened in both of us. And that was a gift.

As we disembarked from the plane, we shook hands and wished each other well. Our smiles and the genuine respect we held for each other during that short encounter will remain with me. I wish I had asked his name.

~ ~ ~

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