An exercise in applying Dad’s lessons

We are excited this week to share a beautiful reflection contributed by Living Room Conversations organizer, Kathryn Mitchell of Arlington, Texas.

When I was a child, my dad was a TV repairman, and he seemed to know everyone in our hometown. Out in public, he dazzled customers with enthusiastic greetings like, “Hey, did you get that new car you were hoping for?” or “How’s your grandmother?  Did she come through her surgery okay?” His customers were noticeably honored that he remembered their stories. They felt important because he cared enough to be curious.

Dad taught me that knowing other people’s stories impacted more than customer service. He explained that unless I understood how a problem impacted everyone affected, I could not solve that problem.

He loved to debate politics with me and my siblings, and as we sat around the living room arguing our positions, he would switch sides mid-course, offering arguments from various angles, and oftentimes using his customers’ stories as excellent cases in point. His goal was not to make us more effective at debating; his goal was to make us appreciate that every person has a unique story that must be considered.  His goal was to make us caringly curious.

Unfortunately, caring curiosity is not a subject everyone learns in school, and it’s not a societal value that has been widely embraced–at least, not yet. In our hyper-politicized society, it’s rare to see people practicing thoughtful dialogue, learning others’ stories and seeking to understand those personal “whys” behind opposing opinions.

For me, finding Living Room Conversations was like finding a hidden door that led me back to Dad’s classroom. It is a place where stories matter, where listening to others broadens my perspectives, and where I feel welcome to share my story, too.

My experience with Living Room Conversations is one of putting Dad’s lessons into practice.  Other participants and I work at listening with care and curiosity, and we gain answers to questions like: How does an issue affect others?  What perspectives can they offer that I haven’t considered?  What common concerns do we share? What is the story behind their beliefs? These stories foster understanding, compassion, and relationships. These stories give me hope that common ground does exist and solutions can be found.

I have learned to treasure the stories others have shared with me. They leave a lasting impact on my perspective. And thanks to Living Room Conversations, I have a venue where I can learn those stories through the ongoing practice of caring curiosity.

Thank you so much for your participation in our work!

Beth G. Raps, PhD
Development Partner

P.S. Do you know someone that would enjoy reading this? Please forward to friends and colleagues!