OK. Today I am reflecting on how I keep messing up political discussions and opportunities. Excuse the french.
I am someone who prides themselves on being able to communicate well. But sometimes I get it wrong.
Today I was on a hike with friends and two of their friends (unknown people to me). We were in Austria, a country who very nearly voted for a far right president who would have had the power to dissolve the elected government if he cared to. And by very nearly I mean like 3%. The husband of the couple I didn’t know was very quiet and at one point to be polite I tried to engage him in conversation. He was about to go on a business trip to the US – I asked him if he’d been there often as I’d lived there for a couple of years and thought our discussion of the differences in culture could be a bonding thing. We also talked a little bit about Australia (where I am from) and at some point he turned the talk towards how Australia had dealt with asylum seekers by putting them in offshore detention camps. I was surprised as most people here have never heard of it, but he mentioned it had been a selling point here in Austria from some politicians as to how to effectively control immigration. I launched immediately into how awful these camps were, how the Australian government has just made a AUS$70 million settlement so that it didn’t have to go to court openly, how incredibly racist white Australia is – somehow subconsciously assuming he would have the same views as me because he was friends of friends (friends who had actively helped with the refugee crisis in Austria, indeed receiving an award for it). However, I began to get the feeling that assumption wasn’t accurate. I began to feel he thought Australia had a point with these camps and I wasn’t sure what to do, as I had already so vehemently opposed Australia’s methods. I ended up backtracking and saying of course there were problems with integration (how I hate that word) and I didn’t have all the answers and eventually I changed the subject to save the day. Or to save my feeling embarrassed. I didn’t want to offend my friends’ friends. I didn’t know how to interact with someone who seemed to think differently to me in a social setting.
But later I am wracked with regret. I now know exactly what I should have done. Of course, 3 hours later it is easy. Hindsight is always 20/20 as they say. I should have asked him what exactly he knew of the Australian offshore detention camps. I should have asked him what he thought of them. He is clearly an intelligent, educated lawyer. What he thought such camps could achieve. Whether he thought they violated human rights or not. What he could envision as a better working model. Perhaps later I could have eventually asked him why he seemed so afraid of refugees.
But I didn’t. I was too caught up in my own political bubble, fear and assumptions. When I realised he was my ‘other’ I got scared and didn’t know how to respond. I was too caught up in my own hurt – as a migrant myself I take these things rather personally and have had various bad experiences with this theme which I was desperate not to repeat. But I see now how I simply shot myself in the foot.
I should have asked. I should have questioned. I should have listened. Genuinely, not just in order to rebutt the argument later. Instead I delivered another left wing monologue which probably didn’t achieve anything except to reinforce his reluctance to discuss.
I feel I missed an opportunity for real dialogue because of my own hurts. And my own single political focus. I was so defensive that I couldn’t listen. That is certainly not the good communication on which I pride myself. What good are communication skills if I can only talk with people who agree with me?
I could have used that 20mins much more wisely. And perhaps we both may have opened to a little more of the others viewpoint on this difficult and loaded topic. I’m now beating myself up and hoping for a second chance. Perhaps I will meet him again on another hike. Or at least hoping like hell I will be more aware next time this same thing happens to be able to step outside myself for a moment and ask the other what they think instead.
You know that story about falling in the hole again and again until you become aware you fell in a hole, and finally you don’t fall in but walk around it instead? I took another small step today, thinking ‘Oh my god, that was the hole again’. Perhaps next time I can see it as it happens and walk around the hole instead. I hope so.
Here’s to recognising our holes as we fall in them again. There will (inevitably) be a next time.