By Kerri Romeo
Having been alone since the beginning of her adventure (aside from chasing the rabbit), Alice finally sees an opportunity to ask someone for help when she swims towards a Mouse who has also slipped into Alice’s pool of tears.
“`O Mouse, do you know the way out of this pool? I am very tired of swimming about here, O Mouse!’” ~ Alice (from Alice in Wonderland, Chapter II)
The Mouse looks at Alice without responding…until she says something that offends him.
Haven’t we all had these types of encounters (on social media especially)? Swimming in a sea of over 1 million users daily on Twitter and over 1 billion on Facebook you can still manage to feel alone with few real connections. Ask for help or support and everyone minds their own business. But bring up something disagreeable and suddenly everyone has a voice.
`Not like cats!’ cried the Mouse, in a shrill, passionate voice. `Would you like cats if you were me?‘ ~ The Mouse
Recognizing that the Mouse’s reaction is based in fear, Alice explains her personal experience with the offending subject (cats), describing the softness of her cat Dinah, in an attempt to calm the Mouse’s fears. But eventually the Mouse is reminded of his own experiences again and he frantically begins to swim away from Alice with her terror-inducing (to him) stories.
There may always be exceptions, but convincing someone to change their mind about their political views is about as likely as persuading a mouse to like cats, no matter how true your points may be. Yes, cats are soft, but they are also a threat to the survival of a mouse. How do we resolve our differences without having to change who we are? If we cannot find common ground is swimming away the best option?
While we know that there are universal struggles happening around us today, our own values and experiences affect our perception, our choices and our ideas for a solution. Yes, for example, we all want to reduce crime, but one person believes the solution is law and order and another person believes in improving education and reducing poverty. Both believe they are right. Any attempt, no matter how well-intentioned, to convince someone to see what you see often stirs up more defensiveness from the other side and a resolution seems beyond our reach. Do we need someone to see it our way or can we work it out another way?
Agreeing to disagree may superficially seem like the best option. But does it really solve anything? Or does it only further enforce our division (albeit politely…at first)? Doesn’t the issue eventually come up again (even if it is with someone else)?
Alice’s background has taught her to be polite so she asks the Mouse to come back, offering not to speak of the uncomfortable subjects again. Does avoiding discussion seem like the answer? Isn’t being politically correct and denying the truth how we got into trouble in the first place?
What if we shifted our intentions to understanding? Did Alice want to change the Mouse’s mind or did she want him to feel safe? What if she asked him what would make him feel safe rather than telling him what made her feel safe about cats? When Alice called out to the mouse when nearly drowning what did she hope for? Didn’t she want help to find safety in an unfamiliar place? Ultimately, Alice’s empathy towards the Mouse helps him feel safe to share and Alice is lead to safety:
`Let us get to the shore, and then I’ll tell you my history, and you’ll understand why it is I hate cats and dogs.‘ ~ The Mouse
When we disagree, what if we ask questions? What if we are curious? What about the other person’s beliefs make them feel safe? What from their experience has shaped their views? We may not necessarily always agree, but when we show empathy within that moment we gain trust and learn a different perspective; Maybe even a new understanding about ourself.
“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr (from “Beyond Vietnam”: Speech at Riverside Church Meeting, 1967)
Sidenote – If someone is not open to discussion, by all means swim away
Jesse Crall and Victoria Lynn Hall (both cat owners) don’t try to convince anyone what to believe or who to vote for (in fact not once have either one of them told us who they are voting for). But they do always ask the question “Why?” to better understand opposing views on “Ask Jesse”:
And Victoria (with a cameo vocal from her cat) reminds us that we can learn from people we disagree with without judging them:
Kerri spends her days as an office administrator for a ballet barre manufacturer and her free time playing frisbee with her dog in NJ. Often at a loss for words in person, she writes to make sense of the world and connect with others. She wishes for more curiosity & kindness in the world.