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Seeking Common Ground

During the stress of today’s election, I think back to when I was a young social worker who co-founded a non-profit called Seeking Common Ground. Teenage girls came together from a wide range of religions, socio-economic statuses, races and nationalities. These girls were from “opposite sides of the tracks” in Denver and opposite sides of the conflict in the Middle East. They had a lot of judgment about each other and got into some fiery-hot conversations when we brought them all together for a summer program. 

Then they did an exercise where they sat knee-to-knee with one of their perceived opposites and put their hand on each other’s heart, closed their eyes and felt each other’s heartbeat.? They sat quietly and focused on how that girl sitting in front of them was a daughter, sister, and friend who loved and was loved. The young women focused on what they had in common with each other.  

At the end of the 3-week program, they could never un-see the humanity and similarities they shared with fellow young women who had once seemed like “them” but now felt like “us.” Like Brene’ Brown said, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.”  This somehow seems relevant today.

In a season of such strong “us vs. them” thinking, I like to remember that parenting transcends politics. Every one of us parents cares about the well-being of our children, no matter who we vote for. Remembering this gives my brain something positive to focus on when the differences feel vast.

For those with kids old enough to be dialed into the election, we can teach emotional intelligence this week:

1. In a season where there’s so much talking, we can be ones who listen. 

2. In research I conducted on what teens want from their parents, I learned how much teens want to be seen and known and heard. This is a good week to be curious about how our children’s world views are evolving.

3. We can help our children “feel the heartbeat?” of those who are politically different from them by asking what our family has in common with those we perceive as “different” from ourselves. It is emotionally intelligent to be able to value others’ opinions, even when they are different from our own.

4. For kids who have feelings about the election, we can encourage emotional intelligence by allowing them space to just FEEL the full range of emotion without us judging. I love to ask:

  • What are you mad about?
  • What are you sad about?
  • What are you scared about?
  • What are you happy about?
  • What are you grateful for?

If we want to raise emotionally intelligent adults, this is an especially good week to model respect for others and allow space for our kids and ourselves to have feelings and opinions of our own.

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