Marianne Williamson’s letter to Sarah Palin didn’t exactly make front-page news when it first came out. But it’s required reading for anyone who cares about dialogue.
Williamson, a spiritual teacher who, by her own admission, is not a conservative, wrote her letter when Palin was using the language of guns to encourage “taking aim” at her opponents. In theory, Williamson could have joined the popular chorus in mocking Palin mercilessly.
Instead, she tried to engage Palin. And the way she did it is enlightening.
Right from the start, Williamson admitted her position in the public square—both what separates her from Palin and, unusually, where they find common ground. “I don’t share your politics but I do share your country,” she wrote. “I am writing to you now as a fellow American and also as a woman who, like you, puts my spiritual journey above all else.” By asserting that common ground, she looked to build trust where none existed before.
Then she went one step further. Rather than diss Palin’s recent book from afar, she made the effort to read it. What a concept! Williamson found a lot to like and said so, establishing more solidarity. She also found a lot to dislike and said that too—in a respectful, civil manner.
Then she made her plea: a carefully reasoned argument for Palin to stop using gun metaphors in her public appearances.
I could describe the letter more, but check it out and you’ll see what I mean. If we could bring such honesty and gentleness to our own dialogues—if we could first seek out common ground and strive to build trust—we just might connect with our adversaries as never before. Part of building that trust involves absorbing, in depth, what “the other side” believes; in doing so, we show a respect that will come through in our dialogues.
Have you ever reached out to an adversary like this? How did you do it? What were the results? Do tell.