My relationship with my grandmother is difficult. While I was growing up, we fought over boundaries and ideas, because we have very differing opinions on the ways of the world. I would frequently get lectured for the simplest offense. It was like she was talking AT me, not conversing with me. She seemed to carry a lot of anger and as a young person, I wasn’t sure how to respond. So, we argued.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better at knowing which topics that will trigger argumentativeness from my grandmother. Even when I try to calmly state my position, her reaction is to bury me in a barrage of words. To cope (and keep peace in the family) my strategy has been to avoid talking to her about any “hot” topics to reduce the chances of being lectured or worse— the two of us arguing bitterly and pointlessly with no ending in sight.
A couple of years ago, I had the thought that maybe my grandmother just had things she needed to say. So, I started to listen. At first it was really hard; I wanted to respond to all the things I disagreed with. But I kept it together and continued to sit and listen for as long as she talked (or, sometimes, yelled.) And when she’d finished, I would muster whatever neutral response I could manage, something like, “Thanks for sharing that,” “I didn’t know that, thanks for telling me,” or “That must be an awful feeling, thanks for telling me about it.” Then, I would excuse myself from the conversation.
After about two years of taking the time to simply sit and listen to what is basically a one-sided conversation, I’ve started to see what I’d call a “softening” in my grandmother’s approach to our conversations. Believe it or not, on occasion, she has asked, “What do you think, Sarah?” or, “Well, I can see how you might think that’s true.” Our relationship is still fragile, but I do see a softening.
I have realized that when two people with two very differing opinions on a topic sit down to talk, there can be a desire to “win” the argument. Or perhaps it’s not so much “winning” as it is holding up your side of the argument . . . or holding true to your beliefs. What I’ve learned is that just because I listen to my grandmother, doesn’t mean that I am endorsing her ideas. Listening is just . . . listening. It’s not agreement. And sometimes, it helps smooth over the frayed edges of a tumultuous relationship.
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In this era of sharply differing opinions about ideals and political leadership, this is valuable counsel.