Raise Your Voice: Healing Society Through Conversational Risks


Living in Colorado, I see a lot of people taking extreme risks and pushing themselves to their physical limits. At least in the Boulder area, it is a way of life for many people.  If I drive up the canyon, I see people taking risks on a rock face. They get a hold on a piece of rock and it’s like they grabbed the hand of God. If I drive up or down a mountain pass I am sure to see someone on a bike riding in one of the two lanes that can barely contain two SUVs. They risk getting hit by a vehicle or flying off a cliff and hitting a climber on the way down. When I snowboard, I see people literally flying by me and some with less than stellar landings just to get some air. Talk about risk. On the streets, you see people running in every type of weather—sometimes multiple types of weather in one day—risking the elements and other factors. On the yoga mat, you might find someone taking the risk of holding a posture that their body just isn’t ready for but they don’t want to stand out in the class so they push themselves. In a health food store you see people taking a risk on a new herb to manage a health issue rather than going to the doctor. Risk. Risk. Risk. It’s everywhere in this town. And maybe it’s like that in every town in different expressions. And yet, with so many people willing to take so many risks, I wonder how many are willing to risk a conversation.

What are you afraid to talk about? Is it race, politics, religion, socioeconomic issues, healthcare? Whatever it is, if you’re like most of us humans, having an uncomfortable conversation feels a little bit like going to a firing squad. It terrifies us. Our bodies go into fight or flight and we see the people starting the conversations as threats. And if for some reason we’re starting the conversation, it is probably under duress. Many people have confessed this to me, but few have willingly confronted this tendency because it’s just too difficult. Let’s talk about why.

There are theories out there that hypothesize that we have this experience because it goes back to a time when to stand out from your community was quite literally a death sentence. Our ancestors could not survive outside the tribe so people would rarely take the risk of being different or trying something new. Same old same old was safe old safe old and so people did what they thought they had to do to ensure their personal safety and the safety of their tribe because they were so intimately woven together. I think this theory has some validity and so when I see people functioning from conscious or subconscious tribal frameworks, I don’t hold it against them and yet, I am mindful that as a species, we have to take the best of what that mentality has to offer and drop the rest. In order to do that, we are going to have to learn how to talk to people who are different from us. We are going to have to take conversational risks.

Conversational cowardice is rampant in our society and if there’s anything that is truly life threatening, it is our fear of opening up to each other in honest dialogue. When we don’t do this, we rely on assumptions, prejudices, biases, and profiling in order to protect ourselves. Once you wake up to this, you see why so many of us only talk to people who share our interests and who don’t challenge us. It’s also why we have so many conversations that lack depth. “This weather sure is crazy isn’t it?” Well there are a lot of other crazy things going on and they are only going to get crazier if we don’t start taking better risks.

You see there are really only two types of risks. They are:

  1. The risks you take – These are active conscious choices motivated by the belief that on the other side of taking this risk there will be discernible improvement in a situation. No matter what the outcome is, these risks will always prove themselves to be life affirming and life enhancing. Others will be inspired by this risk and the act of taking it will endure beyond the lifetime of the person who took it. For examples, see any person who changed the course of history for the better.
  2. The risk of not taking a risk – This type of risk is based in fear. Instead of being life affirming and enhancing, it is death denying and avoiding. If you dig deep enough, you will find that the motivation for taking this type of risk can best be expressed as “I don’t want to die.” No matter what the outcome is, these risks will always prove that they do not stand the test of time. These risks do not inspire unless you are inspired by a cautionary tale. These “non-risk” risks do not foster true development and are usually built on a foundation of blame, shame, or justification—what business futurist Marshall Thurber calls “below the line” communication.

Some people may not readily see how not taking a risk is itself a risk, but all you need to do is turn on the news and you will see. The type 2 risk takers are the people who operate from a zero sum paradigm. They think that someone else’s gain is their loss and so they are going to fight to not lose. This is completely contrary to the true winning mindset which says, “There is plenty for everyone.” That is precisely why it is on those of us who have a “suspicion of plenty” to start adding to the conversational options in the world. If a person truly believes that your gain is their loss they will consider you a threat. Their only goal is to survive. The only thing that can shift the conversation is the risk you choose to take. Will you enter into that same mindset and hope for the best or will you hope for the best and talk with the person about a possibility that includes both of you and all of us?

In an effort to encourage people toward the latter, First Congregational Church of Boulder will be hosting an evening of conversational empowerment on Thursday October 20, 2016 from 6-7:30pm. There is no religious agenda in this offering. Our sole aim is to create a safe space where we can experiment with taking some conversational risks for the betterment of our communities. The theme is “Raise Your Voice” named after the song from local artist, Brandon Hagen.  As his song teaches:

Raise your voice to the others all around
You’ve the lessons learned before you burned the ground
Don’t give up the original intent
to teach your fellow man to live again. – Raise Your Voice, Brandon Hagen

If you’re in the vicinity, we hope that you’ll take the risk and join us and share this opportunity with others.

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