I grew up in an evangelical Christian family. As I’ve developed a much different outlook on life and spirituality, my connection with my parents has grown more and more strained. In fact, in the last year I’ve stopped making contact with them, as every conversation turns into some attempt to convince me that I am wrong, and there is no more room for simply socializing without an agenda.
When I first started questioning the beliefs I’d been taught as a child, I went through a closeted phase. I had two separate lives: a private one I kept between myself and very trusted friends, and a public one where I pretended to still adhere to everything I was brought up to believe. It didn’t work, because no one can fully live out their convictions if they have to do it in secret.
When I realized that wasn’t working for me to live this way, it seemed the next logical step was to actively fight for them to understand my position. It became a fight of ideologies, a constant simmering potential for debate about who was right and who was wrong. I wanted them to open their minds to accept that other people had the right to believe different things. It didn’t matter so much to me that they thought my beliefs were wrong, but it absolutely did matter that they believed that I didn’t have the right to be wrong by their standards.
It took me a long time to realize why that was not going to work. And to realize that, I had to step into their shoes and look at the world they way they saw it. In my world, there is no one correct spiritual path, no one-size-fits-all doctrine which is inarguably true. In their world, there is only one correct way to believe. There is no room for allowing people to be wrong because to do so would be to fail in their spiritual mission. Seeing our relationship through their eyes, I realized that the very idea that I could live life by another set of rules was against their basic beliefs, and admitting that it was okay to exist as I do would be a violation of the rules they live by.
Seeing things from their perspective taught me that there was little hope of succeeding through confrontation. The only satisfactory option in their view was my re-conversion to their beliefs. It didn’t matter how flexible I was about possible outcomes if their only goal was unacceptable to me.
The interesting bit is that my entire spiritual development has occurred because I started trying to understand the world through the eyes of others. Stepping into the world beyond the one I was raised in with a desire for understanding taught me that the way we see other people is distorted by our own experience, and the way they see us is distorted by a similar lens. Once you realize that everyone’s vision is distorted, it’s harder to believe that your view is the most accurate.
Viewing my life through the lens of my parents’ experiences taught me that you can’t force others to understand. You can’t make them see another point of view. Talking only works if the other party listens. And when others refuse to listen, the best response is not force. The best response is silence.