I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the many events that have been taking place across the world recently. If you feel the same way, follow me for a second, maybe we can figure out some interesting aspects of this state of urgency we are experiencing.
While I find it necessary to analyze the bigger picture each day, consume information (real news – always fact check!), I also find it helpful to take the time to dedicate a little brain flexing to not thinking about the bigger picture, checking in with myself and understanding what I need, when I need it, and trying to make space for self-care each day. For some (like myself) a little exercise can go a long way, for others, meditation or a balanced meal can cleanse the mind from the excessive chatter of media and worldly matters.
Recently I’ve found that what has kept me on my feet has been finding the time, the people and the place to talk. I find it extremely helpful and even therapeutic to have long conversations with folks that are in my social circle and more and more with folks that are not in my immediate range of friends and acquaintances. Sometimes these conversations are difficult and uncomfortable. Small disagreements on sensitive topics can send anyone spinning in a rut.
If there is one big lesson to be learned from extensive conversations on controversial topics – it is the importance of developing the art of listening, which is much more complicated than it sounds. The urge to speak, to correct, and to openly disagree flourishes quickly in heated conversations and can derail a subject or generate frustration.
Living with two sociology majors, controversial subjects can be scrutinized for hours… even watching a movie can be challenging, since the movie can become the trigger for scrutiny. More recently these pleasant and largely theoretical conversations have understandably become more and more applied to reality and the political scenario. Not surprisingly, emotions have started to run high. One night as the volume of our voices increased and no one seemed to be truly listening to one another anymore, I had one of those Aha! Moments. I suggested that whenever the conversation derailed to: “you’re not letting me speak” or “you didn’t let me finish my point” and similar sentiments, that we would use a simple, yet super effective debate technique.
This technique consists on giving each speaker three minutes on the dot (you can use the timer on your phone) to lay out opinions and view points. It helps each person organize thoughts and put together ideas, and immediately lowers the level of frustration in complicated conversations, be they political, social, or moral. Each speaker has one minute for a rebuttal after which the three minute rule is applied again. This goes on until each person feels like they’ve made their point without being interrupted. Sometimes this will happen after only one round, sometimes more, but usually after a few rounds each speaker takes less than the three minutes to make their point and the timer is no longer needed to keep a coherent atmosphere, and the group can resume to “normal” conversation. This small but powerful tool has made heated debates much more fluid and productive in my house.
I can distinctly remember how much time and hassle this simple rule saved me as student in meetings and forums. It is a great way to avoid a cacophony of voices trying to overpower each other, and reinforces that a conversation is not about who speaks loudest.
Being uncomfortable is a necessary part of listening. Being uncomfortable makes you curious, alert, more careful about choosing your words carefully, and promotes thinking and preparing counter arguments and further research on divisive topics. Good conversation is the art of maintaining the balance between being upset and satisfied, between informing and learning.
Although avoiding being upset is a huge part of self-care, I believe that being upset is an important part of a healthy mind. Going outside of our comfort zones demands courage, which is a great quality to aim for, while listening demands patience, another fantastic goal to pursue. In times like these, a good balance between happy and sad, patient and eager, comforting and bold, are necessary elements to keep up with the whirlwind of abrupt changes we are experiencing.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is to create spaces and a mind-set in which disagreements can be voiced and discussed, in which we will listen with as much love and patience as we speak.
I encourage each and every one of us to speak up when we feel strongly about a subject, and keep in mind that in order to speak up one needs to listen intently. To survive turbulent times we have to stay curious, and try to heal at the same rate as we are hurt. The more we listen, the more we will have to say; and remember, three minutes is a significant amount of time to make a point, perhaps much longer than it seems. If you find yourself raising your voice, or in a group conversation that seems to be generating confusion and frustration, try the three minute rule, perhaps it might find that three minutes is a long time after all!
Julia Csekö was born in Colorado and grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 2011, Csekö moved to Boston, Massachusetts to pursue a MFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University. Graduating in 2013, she mounted her thesis exhibition at Laconia Gallery in Boston. Csekö is the recipient of a 2016 Walter Feldman Fellowship, awarded by the Arts and Business Council of Greater Boston resulting in her 1st solo exhibition in the USA. Csekö divides her time between being a Practicing Artist and an Independent Curator, serving as a Community Arts Liaison at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Program Coordinator at the New Art Center in Newton. Since graduation Csekö has participated in numerous group exhibitions at national and international venues. Her work is featured in collections including the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada; the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; as well as private collections in the United States and Brazil.