How to Play the “Or Maybe…” Game
Walk together, talk together, all ye peoples of the earth. Then, and only then, shall you have peace. – Sanskrit proverb
A friend, when she was 7 or 8, told me a story of riding in the car with her mom. A man pulled out in front of them, and this scared her. She offered a 7-year-old’s judgment on the man’s action—perhaps declaring him stupid for scaring her. Her mother offered another opinion about the man.
“Maybe he was in a hurry to get home, and he didn’t see us,” her mom suggested. “Or maybe he has an emergency, and he had to go very quickly.”
Then her mother invited my friend to play, asking her for another idea of why the man may have pulled out in front of them.
“Or maybe,” my friend said, “he really wasn’t driving that fast, and he just never saw us.”
The two of them riffed off this for a while, such that my friend shared this with me: “My mom helped me see at a very young age that we can have completely different perspectives about an incident that we both are experiencing. To be open to other perspectives is how we learn. By thinking we already know what’s happening, we close ourselves down.”
How fortunate my friend was that she could learn the power of a shift in perspective at such a young age! After all, we only know what we currently know at this moment in time. There is a vast array of knowledge that we don’t know. And to complicate things further, we don’t know what we don’t know.
The Challenge—and the Blessing—of Changing Your Mind
Try playing the “or maybe…” game when you find yourself jumping to a conclusion about an experience or a situation. Try to put yourself in another’s position and wonder why they think the way they do. What may cause them to hold a particular belief? Did they grow up in a different part of the country? Do they come from a different socio-economic background? Can you see it from their perspective?
Playing the “Or maybe…” game will activate what I call the “learning gene,” so we can expose ourselves to new information. Only then can we gain new concepts, new thoughts, and new ideas.
This includes exposing ourselves to the ideas and opinions of other people. We don’t have to agree with them. But I dare to challenge you to consider them seriously and understand their perspective. For most people, this is nearly impossible. That’s why I offer playing the “Or maybe…” game as a challenge.
When Conversation Becomes a Game-Changer
After 40 years working with conflict transformation in over 30 conflict-torn countries, Dr. Paula Green, founder of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, helped launch the Hands Across the Hills project in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election.
Green brought together progressives from a small community from Massachusetts and conservatives from a small community from Kentucky—towns at polar opposites of the political divide—to discover what unites them. Can you imagine a more potentially contentious, yet challenging, endeavor?
Structured dialogue, in which feelings could be expressed honestly and deeply, created trust. After a week of conversation, of genuine, heartfelt listening, a bridge was built, and the bonds developed pushed political differences into the background. Hear the words of these participants:
“My greatest fear was that you would not be able to forgive us for voting for Trump,” said a woman from Kentucky.
“This is all about understanding,” responded a woman from Massachusetts, “and developing an appreciation for one another’s lifestyles and where we come from. Because I think the values are not very different.”
“Hands Across the Hills has melted away stereotypes so that we can see each other’s human face.”
“What I’m learning,” says Green of her work, “is that in the interaction with people, in the learning to listen, in the learning to be respectful, in the learning to not be judgmental of them, the listening can happen. If we try to do the shifting without any listening, it doesn’t work. It’s not possible for people to suddenly wake up and change their minds. Change happens through gradual shifts, and those shifts happen in human relationships across the divides.”
Yes, indeed. Changing your mind happens gradually, and it takes practice. I invite you to be open to learning from another’s perspective. See if you can appreciate their point of view or at least wonder why they hold it.
Here are some available ways to entertain different perspectives and begin to activate your learning gene:
- Read books outside your wheelhouse
- Consider: Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Hochschild to understand the deep political divides in the US now.
- Subscribe to a YouTube channel that intrigues you
- Go to a lecture at a local college
- Share your learning with others
Choose those that will offer you a completely new perspective to try on.
Be open to generous listening. Because maybe, just maybe, you can begin to become aware of what you don’t know you don’t know.