At polite dinner parties or family gatherings the advice is often to talk about anything other than religion or politics. We can talk, we can discuss but ignite certain topics and lines will be drawn, sides will be taken and pretty soon the festival cheer has acidified into a shouting match.
But why do we get so upset when we talk about these things? Why should it bother us if someone doesn’t share our opinions about the redistribution of wealth or the legacy of empire? It’s unlikely that anything in the real world will change on the basis of one argument. And we don’t mind if someone else prefers chocolate cake to ice cream. So why do we care if they feel differently about how our children are educated about gender?
It seems that we identify with some of our opinions more than others. And when those are challenged and we find ourselves having to justify or defend our political opinions it’s as though we face an existential threat. Our pulses quicken. Our breathing becomes more shallow. We tense up. Pushed into a corner we become more stubbornly entrenched behind our beliefs, unwilling to give an inch. We may become hostile towards the person we’re talking to, even demonising them for not sharing our point of view.
And yet we are nor out point of view. We will have different opinions are different times of our lives. If we’re unwilling to question or examine what we think and believe, how can we ever change or grow?
We want to avoid these kinds of polarising debates at the Festival of Big ideas. And one way we can sidestep these impulses is through mindfulness. We will hold morning sessions in the castle arboretum to watch our breath, observe the sensations in our bodies, to create a little space between us and our ideas.
Then, when we find our ideas being gently challenged during the day we don’t have to give in to the usual reflexes of trying to defend ourselves and turning a chat into a zero-sum debate to be won or lost. Instead we can observe our own reactions, even share them with the person we’re talking to who, most likely has no interest in winning or losing an argument but just wants to talk to you 🙂