Reconcilable Differences: Finding the Courage to Connect With Someone Who Thinks Differently

28 November 2016

"Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging." –Joseph Campbell

Think Like Pando

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving without fighting, fleeing, or freezing with one another? How do you find what you are grateful for in a family with political disagreements?

The two of us invite you to learn how to connect with those who think differently by taking a lesson from the Pando­–an Aspen grove of approximately 43,000 trees in Utah. It’s one of the largest and oldest living species on the planet. Its name in Latin means, “I spread,” which it has done for 80,000 years through an intertwined root system spreading beneath the surface of the earth for hundreds of miles. Individual trees that stand in dryer areas receive water and nutrients ferried by roots of other connected trees standing in wetter soil. In other words, one tree supports another through an invisible network beneath the surface even during potentially devastating events of fire, avalanche, mudslides. The Pando responds to such challenge by sprouting more growth. In the strongest of winds, these trees hold each other up.

How Do You Loosen Your Mental Grip?

As we are sure you have noticed, this is a time of very strong winds coming from opposite directions. Many people are clinging to the topmost branches of the tree–their beliefs and opinions–wanting others to see the same horizon that they do. The stronger the winds, the tighter they hold on. Our intent in writing this blog to you is to offer a simple practice drawn from decades of working with people who seek to connect with another who thinks differently. In our experience, it makes it possible to loosen your grip just enough for gravity to pull you down to the thick trunk of the tree, where you can find your own center of stability, growth and gratitude even as diverse storms rage all around you. From this place, you can dig beneath the surface and find what's really important to you as well as that which connects you to the rest of the grove.

We dare you to come to your senses, literally, by taking three minutes to redirect your attention into your own body and internal state of mind—energy, emotions, and needs in the present moment.

Practice: Part 1–Coming To Your Senses

· Ignoring your thoughts, judgments, and opinions, notice just the data that one of your senses gives you, either what you are feeling in your body, or hearing, or seeing around you. Write it down or describe it out loud for one minute: "I'm seeing my fingers on the keys. I'm seeing the papers on my desk. I'm seeing the wires of my computer..." Rather than a long list, connect to your attention by beginning each perception with the words "I'm [seeing]...." No need to make it interesting or clever. It's just your reality.

· For the next full minute, shift to another sense and describe it as above. “I'm feeling a gurgling in my stomach. I'm feeling a pounding behind my forehead.”

· For one last minute, repeat the above with the third sense. “I'm…” and describe that one as above. “I hear creaks in the walls of this old house. I hear the inhale of my breath. I hear the clicking of my keys. I hear music playing from my computer.”

Part 2–Connecting With Gratitude To Someone Who Thinks Differently

· After coming to your senses, name one specific thing about this person for which you are grateful. "I appreciate how she asks me questions when I am stuck.” “I'm grateful that he can get me to laugh when I'm down." If you choose, write or tell it to the other. Notice the effect.

In times like these, there is no time not to connect in a stable and authentic way with someone who doesn't think the way you do. Beneath the surface of our differences, there are the roots that hold you up in even the fiercest wind. Knowing how to dig in to find them may not help you change someone else's mind, but it will help you remember that we are an interconnected system and need each other to grow forward.

We are sending you this blog to invite you to explore an essential question with us: How do we grow the intelligence within and between us to create a possible future?

As you learn how to do this, we all will learn. Please share the effects of your courageous conversations on the comment feed below. Please invite others to join this conversation.

–Dawna and Angie


Creating this blog is our version of an anti-depressant. It is a natural extension of what the two of us have been deeply engaged with individuals and teams for decades, of how people find the courage to connect with those who think differently.

Twenty years ago, Dawna was one of the co-creators of the viral revolution “Random Acts of Kindness,” which was a call to balance the random acts of violence that were spreading around the world at that time. She and Angie think as differently as any two people you could find, yet they have co-authored two books published by Random House: CollaborativeIntelligence: Thinking With Those Who Think Differently (2015), and Reconcilable Differences: Finding the Courage To Connect With Someone Who Doesn't Think Like You (2018)