Marsh Hudson-Knapp: Difficult conversations


It was this Christmas, and I found myself at a family gathering watching a report on catastrophic storms and flooding that have devastated vast areas of our nation. I commented to a member of my family, "It just seems impossible to think there is no climate change."     

That beloved family member looked at me, hesitated and said, "Well there does seem to be change but I am afraid, yes I think I'm convinced there is nothing we can do about it."

I love that family member deeply, AND I felt very upset. I kept quite and wandered away to think. Immediately my mind started creating arguments to show my family member how wrong they are. In my heart I blamed them for the mess we are in. I felt anger, sadness, judgment, confusion, discomfort and in time I shared the hopelessness they felt. At the same time, pivotal values of my life feel threatened! I decided to keep my mouth shut.

I looked back to a several environmental care projects I have shared with this same family member. What has happened? What created the distance between us? Could we bridge the divide?

A few years ago a friend of mine purchased a copy of the book Difficult Conversations. Bill was hoping that our church could talk about some issues that he knew could be difficult, even divisive, and a friend suggested this book to help.

Bill and his wife had argued and fought for years. They loved each other when they married, but as time passed they discovered that they held very different opinions about almost everything. In fact,

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every time I saw my friend he complained bitterly about his wife. He KNEW difficult conversations.

A few months after Bill purchased the Difficult Conversations book he came to me. "Something has happened to my marriage. For years my wife and I have argued almost non-stop, so I decided to try doing what I read in that book. My wife and I watch the news together now, and I say what I think. But I start by saying something like this, `Honey, this is what I am thinking. It's just MY opinion.' Then she tells me what she thinks. It is fascinating," Bill recounted. "I never imagined the ideas she has. We have not changed our minds but we are having lots of fascinating talks together."

Well that intrigued me. What had this book done to these arguing friends? I dug out MY copy of Difficult Conversations and began studying it. It's gradually helping me: to shift from blaming someone to exploring all the contributions to a problem, from imagining another's intentions to exploring the impact of the situation together... and much more. Twelve powerful chapters open the way to move from arguments - at work, at home, everywhere- to mind-opening, heart stretching learning conversations.

I invite you to join me on an adventure: to read, search together, and practice how Difficult Conversations can build a bridge with those OTHERS in our lives. We'll study one chapter a month and learn with each other, starting in March, as a part of the Peace and Justice Center and Interfaith Council efforts to LIVE the ways of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Drop me an email at if you're tired of arguing, or avoiding. Get you copy of Difficult Conversations at Bennington Bookstore, if you like, and start reading! I'll get back to you about the start date for our discussions.

Marsh Hudson-Knapp is a member of Second Congregational Church UCC of Bennington


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