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Fourth Street 2017

I tend not to join heated conversations, particularly internet ones, for a couple of reasons: They’re rarely actually conversations; I get emotionally hooked and obsess over things that take me away from my work; and I have a bit of (perhaps faulty) programming in my head that runs this way– angry people are potentially dangerous. My tendency is to stay out of their way.
But I’m wading in.
I love Fourth Street. Unabashedly. It’s a place I feel safe to be me — to be the overly-excitable, talkative enthusiast who asks too many questions, who gets carried away. It’s a place my kid feels okay being who he is, and that means more to me than I can put into words. It’s a place where excitement and emotional intensity run high. And I love that. Most of the time. This time, it really challenged me.
I tend to read how (and how strongly) a person feels before I process what they say. I had registered something – not danger, not threat — but something that called for heightened alertness before Steve even started talking. The second thing I remember feeling was some weird kind of exclusion anxiety, the sense that there was a high-stakes conversation already in progress that I hadn’t known about. Consequentially, welcoming ceremonies didn’t feel super welcoming. The experience I was hoping for — what I love about Fourth Street — felt under threat. I felt uncomfortable.
I feel much more uncomfortable now.
I’m not saying anyone made me feel this way. Hundreds of things, and experiences, and social forces, and neuroses contribute to my emotional reaction to things. I am not making anyone else responsible for my reactions. I am saying how I feel. As a data point. As practice.
Because I want to talk about things that matter and that elicit strong emotions. I want to hear everybody. I know that the expression of strong negative emotion (particularly anger) makes that harder for me.
So what do I do? I only see three choices, and I don’t love any of them: I stop talking about certain highly-charged topics, I excuse myself from the conversation when the expression of strong negative emotion becomes overwhelming for me, or I stop talking with particular people. Maybe there are options I don’t see, but for now, this is me trying to break my programmed preference for silencing myself in the face of discord, and talk about something that makes me feel vulnerable and afraid.
So here’s my question: how do we have a conversation about how we talk? How do we get to hear everybody? How do we create a space for meaningful conversation from a wide range of passionate voices about the stories we love, the ideas behind them, and the craft of their creation?
Okay, that wasn’t one question, it was three, but math isn’t emotional enough to interest me.

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