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Kern Beare: Learning to Live Together Via Difficult Conversations

Nuggets From Kern Beare's Call

Last Saturday, we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with Kern Beare.

Kern Beare is the founder of Pop the Bubble, a personal initiative born in the wake of the 2016 election to help heal our national divide. “Tucked inside my cozy Silicon Valley ‘bubble,’ I'd become disconnected, oblivious to the experiences of millions of my fellow citizens,” Kern said. So with his 23-year-old son, Kern mapped out a cross-country route to Washington D.C. to talk with people of different backgrounds. Following their one-month, cross-country “conversation road trip”, they gained vital insights around our relationships with one another, and the need to develop radical new skills to heal our nation. With these learnings in mind, Kern created a free, half-day workshop to help participants gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics that turn conversations into conflicts, and to look "beyond" our personal story to access more easily and deeply our innate capacity for connection, creativity and collaboration.

Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me ...

  • “How could you talk to those people?” was a striking response after listening tour, but also coupled with feedback that most folks *wanted* to engage those with political differences, but had fears. Thus arose workshop, “Difficult Conversations.”
  • Human survival instincts of fight, flee, or freeze — “moderately more sophisticated than an alligator’s.” "One of the things we know about difficult conversations, one reason they're difficult, is that they trigger our survival drive. We either fight, meaning we argue and try to win, or we flee. We avoid the conversation altogether and sometimes we even freeze in the conversation, where we get so flummoxed and we are caught off guard by what someone says that we don't even know how to respond." 
  • Framed three corresponding points to keep in mind for "difficult conversations":
    • 1) Willingness to prioritize the relationship over being right.  "When you look at people who are able to engage the other there's a willingness to prioritize the relationship over being right. And that's the first strategy. Set aside your own agenda, your own priorities, to make sure that the relationship stays intact and that you maintain a good spirit. It doesn't mean you give up your priorities or you give up your conviction. It simply means that you put them on pause in service of the relationship. You don't put them at the top. The relationship is always at the top. If your goal is to actually try to influence somebody and you don't have a relationship with them, it's simply not going to work."
    • 2) Ability to see beyond your story. i.e. sense of self not dependent on personal story.  "Who we are, what really makes life meaningful, is good relationships, a loving spirit, a good attitude, kindness towards one another. For me, these are all ways of talking about seeing beyond our story and getting ahold of the fact that we have been ingrained with our personal story and we can over-identify with it."
    • 3) Transform resistance into response. ("If not stuck in resistant, what plethora of options might I be able to see?")  "We see that by surrendering our resistance we're actually able to engage that larger sense of self and the capacities for creativity and responsiveness, resilience, openness to new ideas, that allow us to be more creative and impactful in the situation. I can be resistant and be useless. Or I can surrender and access this larger sense of self and really be an agent of change. I can really get ahold that it is the choice that I am making. Now perhaps I am really motivated to understand what resistance is."
  • Dialogue as practice to help us expand our sense of self.
  • “Who are we? Where are we? What are we to do?” We’re born into a culture that gives us default answers--before we have any idea that we’ve been given answers!
  • The way the brain stores information is a lot like the way we build a house—everything is connected to everything else. Can think of deeply held beliefs like that—if you remove a deeply held belief, it could be like removing a load-bearing wall. "Information is a lot like the way we build a house, everything is connected to everything else.  In the context of threats to our deeply held beliefs, if you ask someone to change a deeply held belief, it's like removing a load-bearing wall from the deeply held belief, which is attached to your whole sense of self. It's attached to who you think you should be to be accepted. It's attached to the community that you rely on, that you feel dependent upon."
  • “Default mode network”—region in brain, most active when we’re at rest and thinking about ourselves.
  • Why does one want to protect the story self? Often a wound, trauma behind it. 
  • "We always say don't look at the facts. Look at the facts. It's so clear. How could you think what you think? Well, I have to think that way because if I don't think that way I lose my family. My community rejects me. Think of gun control. If you live in a community where the gun culture is really strong and all of a sudden you become an advocate for gun rights, think about how your relationships change in that community."
  • Need to create new neural pathways for different patterns.  "To disrupt an old pattern that is a well-entrenched pattern in your brain takes a lot of work. We have to be very motivated to do it."
  • "A strategy is to transform resistance into response.  There's a difference between taking a stand and being resistant. It is another form of the survival drive when we're in resistance. We're saying no to what it is that we don't like and usually what tends to happen to us is our mind shuts down, we get defensive. Perhaps we get angry at whatever might be going on. When we're in a state of resistance, we lose tremendous capacities for present, for creativity and for responsiveness."
  • When we’re in resistance to someone, ask yourself, “how am I like you?” 
  • Process-oriented--if process is right, then outcome takes care of itself. "There's no magic way of just filling in this block and this block and this block. We have to try different things, we introduce our own humanity into the process.  It's messy but I think if our intention is right and we're going for the right thing, and we're committed to figuring it out, it works."
  • Tip for engaging in difficult conversation with someone who is challenging for you? "Accept the person for who they are … to the point where you don’t need them to change." "There's this wonderful concise quote from Peterson. He says, 'People don't resist change. They resist being changed.' What we're talking about is creating conditions to allow people to change themselves, as that mysterious timeline of their own ripens."
  • Our need to control, reduces the other person’s agency, in turn causes fear, and when in fear you’re not thinking.
  • "Really listen to the other, and then regardless of how the conversation proceeds, even if it's heated, you end well. And you say thank you for that conversation. I know these things can be difficult to talk about, and I appreciate your willingness to engage, it takes courage. What that does is that person will always remember that conversation in a positive light and they will be more willing to engage the next time. So I would say there are two keys, listen well and end well."
  • 5 word summary? :) Listen well, and end well.
​​​​Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!

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