Today I got into a heated, though thankfully not acrimonious, religious discussion with a good friend which had to end abruptly for the sake of our friendship. Afterward, I was reflecting and was surprised by my emotional reaction. Heart pumping, adrenaline flowing, voices tense. What the hell? We are both very committed Christians and in the heat of the moment we were more talking at each other than conversing with each other. I was taken at how angry I had become. And for no intellectual reason really. It wasn’t that deep. The world would not end, but here I was upset.
It finally occurred to me that as my friend spoke he used words and phrases and believed things that triggered visceral emotional reactions to experiences I’ve had in the past. But not recognizing that is a fundamental mistake. It is very hard to think when you are excited and full of emotion. I reacted rather than acted with intention. My friend was gone replaced by the bogeymen of my past humiliations and righteous anger. I failed to get outside myself and acknowledge him and, most importantly, that he might be feeling precisely the same way. In truth, things I said challenged his deeply held beliefs and that is rarely welcome.
It was an object lesson in compassion. It takes a lot of humility and hard work to “feel with” others. If I had taken the time to do so, we might have turned a sharp disagreement into a teachable moment rather than a clash of ego, belief, and emotion.