Awkward conversations

By Josef Walker
Faith Communities Program Coordinator, HarmonyNCCJ 

Do you ever find yourself in a conversation that begins awkwardly and goes rapidly down hill from there? In my experience, these situations can make for a funny story later (sometimes much later), or they can be really painful, or, in some instances they become moments of grace.

A couple of weeks ago, friends introduced me to a gentleman in a social context. His name is Robert and in my effort to make a connection and carry on a casual conversation I replied that my brother’s name is Robert and added that he is in serving in Baghdad. Immediately, my new acquaintance launched into some strident political opinions about the war. I was caught off-guard, not so much by his politics as by his timing, and it must have shown on my face.

Then something really amazing happened. Robert stopped mid-sentence. He straightened his stance a little, looked me square in the eye, and apologized. Robert went on to say he assumed I was rightly proud of my brother’s service and I was probably concerned for my brother’s safety. He assured me that he and his church prayed for our soldiers every Sunday and longed as we all do for an end to this and all violent conflicts.

I thanked Robert for his sensitivity to the situation and for his prayers for my brother. We talked a little more and then shook hands and parted in one another’s good graces.

I appreciate that Robert respectfully acknowledged that other people may have deeply held convictions or perspectives that differ from his own. I am grateful that Robert accepted responsibility for his words and actions and how they might be interpreted by other people. I am thankful that I was patient and didn’t “return fire” which gave Robert time to catch himself. And, I value our conversation which delved into meaningful issues rather than remaining on the surface with small talk about sports or celebrities.

Sometimes it may seem as if the whole world is polarized and slogan-saturated and the best we can do is distract ourselves with superficial trivia. As we see in this incident and in countless other scenarios, we can make a difference when we individually and collectively practice the universal tenets of faiths, especially respect, responsibility, and reconciliation.

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1 Comment »

  1. Natalie Patrick-Knox said

    Thank you for sharing your story. I think this is an important situation to reflect on, because understanding take practice and patients. We can learn more from the people that are different from us than those who are the same. We just have to remember that respect and understanding does not necessarily mean agreeing, and we can gain a lot more from each other.

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