My parents, my sister, and I are crammed into a small white van zooming through the Turkish countryside along the Mediterranean coast with our driver and tour guide in the front seat. Our tour guide is telling us how our first stop, The House of the Virgin Mary, has healed so many people who have walked through its doors. People with canes and crutches suddenly don’t need them; people in wheelchairs suddenly stand up and walk. People pilgrimage from all over the world to this house because so many miracles have happened here.
During this speech, I’m sitting in the backseat rolling my eyes because this guy obviously thinks that this house in the middle of nowhere in Turkey is going to magically heal my sister. (And y’all already know my thoughts on my sister needing to be healed.)
So we finally get to the house (more like a tiny shack) and upon entering there’s a pile of crutches and canes and folding wheelchairs all tucked right within the entrance, all supposedly left behind from those who were miraculously healed. At this point, I have had enough of our tour guide’s spiel about how the house can heal my sister and I’m ready to simply move on to the next stop on the tour.
Except, it’s not yet time to move on. First we have to go to the fountains outside The House of the Virgin Mary and drink from their healing water, because if the house can’t heal my sister, the water MUST be able to heal her. As I’m sulking behind my parents and rolling my eyes at everything this guy says, he offers me to drink some of the water from the fountain and I, of course, flat out refuse. I’m so angry at him at this point that I wander off to the side with tears welling up in my eyes and continue my sulking until we finally (FINALLY!) head off to the next stop.
Needless to say, this wasn’t my proudest moment ever. And my response certainly didn’t help anyone involved. I embarrassed my parents who were quite upset with me for disrespecting our tour guides’ beliefs and culture. I likely reaffirmed to the tour guide that American teenagers are awful and rude people. And my sister probably didn’t care at all (about the tour, about the tour guide’s comments, or about my sulking.) However, I will get the chance to ask her soon, so stay tuned for that!
At the end of the day, no one benefitted from this interaction (except maybe me, years down the road, learning the lessons from it.)
Was there a better way to handle this interaction? Should I have simply told him that I think my sister’s great the way she is and doesn’t need to be healed or fixed? Should I have told him his ideas are wrong? Well, no. He probably would have gotten defensive (as most people do when you tell them they’re wrong) and he likely would have started to justify his side and reiterate to me all the reasons he was right.
So if we can’t just go around telling people to change their beliefs, what can we do? How can we have these important conversations?
What we CAN do is be curious about other peoples’ points of view and invite them into a conversation about our differences, with no judgement and with no ulterior motive to change them. We simply have to be curious and talk.
So much easier said than done, right? Trust me, I know how easy it is to get defensive at times like this, but attacking (or sulking) won’t help anyone, it’ll just create a deeper rift.
In the example of the tour guide, I would have to build trust in the conversation first, trust that I’m not going to judge him for his viewpoints, long before I can even begin to bring up my own viewpoints on disability.
First, he has to know that I’m interested in what he has to say. I could have asked him questions related to the tour or himself, such as “Do you have any stories about people who have been healed?” “How many people pilgrimage here every year for healing?” “Do you find the house to be healing for you?” I could have asked all of these questions with the sole intention of learning about him and what he was teaching. And I would have had to ask these questions from a place of openness and acceptance.
Only after showing genuine interest could I have brought up my own viewpoints, and without any intention to change his. I could have said, “I believe my sister lives a pretty great life with her disability, so I don’t wish that the house heals it, but I do wish that we all can experience spiritual healing today.”
The fact is, this isn’t about our own feelings, it’s about having a real conversation where the other person is open to listening to your ideas and opinions and you’re open to theirs. When we want to advocate for a better, more accepting, and inclusive world, we HAVE to learn to listen to the other person and be genuinely interested in what they have to say.
I’m not coming to you as someone who’s mastered this concept. Far from it. Honestly, this is probably one of the hardest things for me to do as a human being. It’s one of the skills in which I probably need the most practice. But I bet I’m not the only person who struggles with this concept. I bet there have been times in your life, like mine in Turkey, where you wish you had said something differently or acted differently.
My hope is that by writing this post, both you and I remember this concept during a conversation in the future and use it to make a connection instead of a rift. We are capable of creating a better world, one open conversation at a time!
I want to hear your story! Let me know in the comments a time where you created a rift instead of a connection and what you wish you had done differently.