Deeper than Division: Questions for Hard Conversations

This year friends have invited me into some difficult conversations on the issues that divide neighbors — discussions about guns, immigrants and sexuality. Some of these conversations took place in churches, others around dinner tables.

The most interesting conversations, the ones that seemed to get somewhere, got underneath what we believe to the deeper issues of how we believe and why.
I started paying attention to the questions that were helping us have the conversations we really needed, and in most cases these were questions not about issues but about us.

Here’s a list of questions (in no particular order) worth inviting into your next tough discussion:

– What do I bring to this conversation?
– Why does this question matter to me?
– What does this question mean to me?
– What comes up for me when someone asks this question?
– What makes this conversation difficult for me?

– What experience do you bring to this conversation? When has this topic been personal for you?
– How did your opinions and convictions on this subject take shape? What formed you on this topic?
– What other experiences to you imagine people are bringing to the conversation?

– What is at stake for us in this conversation?
– Where in conversation about this question do we have the opportunity to love one another?

– How is this question different from other questions?
– What other questions are like this question for us? What do they have in common?

– What are we afraid could happen in a conversation about this topic?
– What do I hope could happen in a conversation about this topic?
– How might we best prepare to discuss this question?
– What rules of engagement might help us with this conversation?

– Who else is struggling with this question?
– How might we be present with the broader community as we converse together?

– To what extent have we identified with a “side” in this discussion?
– What do we most respect about the other side?
– What about our own side makes us most uncomfortable?
– What sorts of shared value or common ground do the sides share?