I’ve learned something so simple, and yet so groundbreaking, that it has literally changed how I engage. Well, when I remember to do it, that is.
Breaking a bad habit is a work in progress, but I’m on a mission.
What is this new habit I’m working to develop? Listening.
In a polarized world, we are not listening to hear, we are listening to win. And that’s not really listening. Shocker, I know. Disagreements turn into debates instantaneously, and something happens in our brains when we find ourselves in a debate. This curious little beastie called the ego gets to work to make sure that you win and win at all costs.
How novel is it then to enter a discussion, even a disagreement, armed not with the ego’s defenses, but with true curiosity? Not to win, but to listen.
This curiosity, mixed with a dose of humility, is a game-changer. It’s not just counter-cultural, but counter-evolutionary even. The ego’s fear of (literally) being left out in the cold to fend for itself, has not kept up with evolution. The saber tooth tiger of our neanderthal ancestors lives on lurking behind every Twitter comment, every news story, every disagreement.
Threatened with the fear of exile from our ideological tribes, we soldier through ensuring the safety of our group with the appropriate slogans and groupthink, at the expense of true diversity.
James Joyce, III, founder of Coffee with a Black Guy, and I have several areas of disagreement in this conversation – reparations, critical race theory, the role of systems – but our mutual curiosity and our commitment to engagement was the common ground that allowed us to hear and not fear each other.
For me, personally, it was uncomfortable. My little beastie sat on the sidelines looking for a place to interject. Whispering to me that my questions would label me with terrible epithets not just from outside my “group” but also that entertaining different ideas may excommunicate me within my own ideological tribe. But we are the dissidents, as my co-author W.F. Twyman, Jr. is fond of saying. And I’m trying to be ok with that.
I don’t agree with James on some of his ideas, nor he with me, but we both agree that if this democracy thing is going to work, we need to create new spaces for conversation. Not safe spaces, but spaces for good faith disagreement, critical thinking, curiosity, the humility and willingness to change our minds, and the courage to stand our ground.
I hear a lot of lip-service given to the idea of creating new spaces, and it’s noble. But saying these words, and repeating this mantra, is simple and comes with little danger.
The danger is in the doing.
In the Hold my Drink — navigating culture with a chaser of civility, and Counterweight podcast, Episode 77, I have coffee with James Joyce III, Founder of Coffee with a Black Guy. James and I don’t always see eye-to-eye, but we have a lot of common ground, namely that conversation and even disagreement are good, and are needed if we’re going to do this democracy thing together. There was no walking on eggshells or shaming in this sometimes uncomfortable conversation, just curiosity and open-minds to hear each other out, with the promise to keep the connection and conversation going. All discussed with a chaser of civility, of course, and you know… coffee.
Hold my Drink welcomes all people with all kinds of beverages to join us as we explore the truths of a chaotic and beautiful world, together.
What James is Reading
Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman's Journey Through Depression, by Nana-ama Danquah
On Being Human: A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard, by Jennifer Pastiloff
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Atlanta, FX, produced by Donald Glover
Snowfall, FX, created by John Singleton
Abbott Elementary, ABC, created by and starring Quinta Brunson
What Jen is Reading
My Testimony on Reparations, Quillette, Coleman Hughes
The Alternative Reading Guide for the 1619 Project Essays, Medium, J.D. Richmond & W.F. Twyman, Jr.
To the Coming of a Better Time, Medium, W.F. Twyman, Jr.
What Have We Learned About Culture, Disadvantage and Black Youth?, YouTube, Orlando Patterson at Case Western Reserve University
America's Black upper class - Rich, successful and empowered, YouTube, DW Documentary
James Joyce III is Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of Coffee With A Black Guy, an innovative movement in which he facilitates conversations about race and perspective for community groups and organizations. Joyce is a former award-winning journalist and runner up in the 2021 Santa Barbara mayoral election. To learn more about Coffee with a Black Guy, which provides both private and community offerings visit www.cwabg.com