Anna Sale: Hard Topics, Softer Conversations - Kate Bowler

Anna Sale: Hard Topics, Softer Conversations

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podcast banner Anna Sale: Hard Topics, Softer Conversations

Anna Sale: Hard Topics, Softer Conversations

Our culture seems convinced that going off-script is unbecoming. Instead, we are rewarded for being buttoned up, perfect (or at least appearing to be), and never ever no-matter-what admit weakness. But… don’t we need each other, especially when facing the most difficult moments? 

Author and Death, Sex, and Money podcast host Anna Sale leans into every hard conversation, no matter how difficult the topic. 

In this conversation, Kate and Anna discuss:

  • How conversations might engender the intimacy we need to get by

  • Fostering the right interpersonal and listening skills it takes to approach a difficult topic (especially when you’re feeling nervous)

  • Best practices for responding to someone’s hard news

  • How learning to listen might bridge differences of all kinds

What do we lose when we don’t talk about hard things? And what might we gain if we do? 

 

Guest

Anna Sale

Anna Sale is the creator and host of Death, Sex & Money, the podcast from WNYC Studios about “the things we think about a lot and need to talk about more.” After debuting at the top of the iTunes chart in 2014, Death, Sex & Money was named the #1 podcast of the year by New York Magazine in 2015. Before launching Death, Sex & Money, Anna covered politics for nearly a decade. She is the author of the book Let's Talk About Hard Things, which The New Yorker wrote "shows us how supportive listening happens." She grew up in West Virginia and now lives in Berkeley with her husband and two daughters.

Show Notes

You can follow Anna on her Twitter, on her Instagram, and on her website.

Listen to Anna’s podcast Death, Sex, and Money, here.

Buy Anna’s book Let’s Talk About Hard Things, here.

Anna is honest about how her life went off-script when she got her divorce. Read more about what she learned through the divorce, here.

Learn more about my Ethan Hawke reference here (P.S. It’s from the movie Reality Bites).

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Transcript

Kate Bowler:        There are some topics that are strictly off limits at the dinner table. Politics, religion, which Canadian football team is the best and why it is obviously the Saskatchewan Roughriders, one of two teams in a small football league, named the Roughriders. Oh wait, that’s just my dinner table. So why is it that some of our hardest truths are off the table for discussion? Like that you’re scared your kid is getting behind in school and don’t know how to help, or that your drinking might be getting out of control, or that your mom’s memory seems to be slipping. Or you’re worried about your relationship that it might be falling apart when the kids leave, or that you might be losing the business or sicker than you let on. Our culture seems convinced that going off script is unbecoming. Instead, we are rewarded for being buttoned up, perfect or at least appearing to be and never, ever, no matter what, admitting weakness. But don’t we need each other, especially when facing the most difficult moments? What do we lose when we don’t talk about the hard things and what might we gain if we do? I’m Kate Bowler and this is Everything Happens. Today, I’m speaking with someone who leans into every hard conversation, no matter how difficult the topic. Anna Sale is a journalist, author and interviewer on her award winning podcast Death, Sex and Money, and she wrote a gorgeous book I love. It’s called Let’s Talk About Hard Things Anna, my soulmate I’ve only just met. Hell, I’m so glad we’re doing this.

Anna Sale:         I’m so glad to be doing this with you. I really like I have been such a fan and admirer of the way that you like so beautifully like somehow invite people in in a fun way to the idea that there are hard things that you’re not going to have any solutions for.

Kate Bowler:         Welcome to the incurability of life. Do you still want to be friends? That’s a weird, weird tone.

Anna Sale:         I can’t help you, but come on in.

Kate Bowler:         That is exactly the doormat. You’re right. That is the premise because I I am immediately feel in you such an intense kinship around the love of the deep end. And I I wonder what the primary like how how it feels like it leads. Do you think it for you it leads with curiosity first?

Anna Sale:        Yeah, I mean, I really think, you know, I’ve I’ve thought about this a lot because because people ask me where it comes from and it’s funny because I don’t think of it as like having an origin and think of it as like, so just part of who I am, like, I was one of those insufferable teenagers in junior high who was like ugh small talk. I just kind of talk about the real stuff, you know, like, let’s just dig in. So I was an insufferable teenager and then I became an insufferable reporter, you know? So when you’re a reporter, you know, it is like your assignment. When you’re a reporter, your your profession is to make sure that you are understanding what you’re seeing and what someone is trying to communicate with you. And then to tell the reader or the listener whether you buy what this person is telling you. So. So it leads what you have to lead with. I’m really curious. I want to understand more and I want to understand clearly. So that requires both a kind of extending and saying like, No, no, tell me more. Tell me more. Tell me more. And also not flinching from that question. That’s like. But are you sure? Because I think I think maybe there’s another reason you’re running for office that doesn’t have to do with all the, you know, whatever, like high minded reasons you’re giving me. And so then that has extended into how I interview people about the most personal things.

Kate Bowler:         Yeah, I guess I’ve always thought, though, that my journalist friends. So, you know, I I write historical books and I often do interviews, but mine are kind of long form and the questions are a bit, I guess I just picture them as a bit soft like, which is why I’m really terrible at interviewing politicians. And I guess, though, sound like your motivation. Let’s wrap this line of inquiry up. Tell me more about your kids.

Kate Bowler:         But the journalists I know they have a toughness to them. I like these are an unflinching, but I feel like they’re better at the like the chipping away questions than I think many of us are trained to do. For me, at least as a historian, but certainly as friends, I wonder if journalists have like a couple. Well, I’m sure they have many extra skills that they have learned in this storied profession.

But like, is there a special thing that you were trained to do as a journalist that is maybe different from a lot of people’s? Soft, our regular friendship skills.

Anna Sale:        Yeah, I mean, I think like think of it like, you know, the first press events that you cover when you’re coming up, at least for me, was like a crowded press conference where all of your colleagues, your competitors are all lined up. The person who has information to tell you something is standing in front of you. They tell you the information and then your job is to shout “like shit!” and like, shout a question that’s like as direct as it and short and like to the point as you can. That was the muscle I really developed early with, with being a reporter was like, I have to use my elbows to get the information I like sort of come back around through during personal interviews and personal storytelling to really trying to infuse my journalism with. The idea that every interview I do is a relationship, it’s not only extractive, you know, I think a lot of media is like, Tell me what I need to know and then I’m going to move to the next story. When you’re doing one episode or one interview, like, we take a lot of time on our show to make sure the process is really clear to the people who we’re having on like what will happen to this tape? You know, when will I hear when the episode is coming out, you know? And also, like if it’s an emotional interview, just taking those few minutes when you’re wrapping up to say, like, what are you doing for the rest of the day? You’re going to be with somebody else, you know, just like showing that care, which is not a skill that you’re sort of taught to sharpen as a reporter because that somehow is seen to be getting too cozy or something. But I think of like melding those two styles is is my ideal way of of doing the kind of journalism that I do.

Kate Bowler:        Elbows and heart,

Kate Bowler:        I like artfulness, elbow combination.

Anna Sale:        I’m also that way as a wife.

Kate Bowler:         So what was our motivation there for not doing these dishes? Is there something we could find as a point of commonality?

Kate Bowler:         Because I do think I’m part of your trademark like you’re one of the things that’s so distinctive when you. To me, at least when you you enter into a conversation is that there’s an intensity, but a softness there reminded me sometimes of like the intimacy people can have with really close friends where they’re able to lovingly call. I mean, there’s only a few people we feel comfortable openly calling bullshit on each other’s stories, but it is wonderful to be able to skip a little bit of the like, the preamble and the self-justification and ask maybe the the harder question underneath the initial question. You know, you’re definitely in elbows and heart kind of pursuit, which makes you so fun to listen to, people tell you their stories and they really get into the layers of really complicated subjects. I want to know about the first time that you felt like. You had a life that needed explaining because I can remember mine the first time I realized I was off script was when I felt like I had to explain why I got sick, like, Oh no, it’s it’s colon cancer. It wasn’t something I ate, like I was already preempting a response as if there was already a conversation happening between me and whoever was listening. And I wondered if divorce was like that for you.

Anna Sale:         Yeah, yeah. That that for me, was when it happened, when I first had my first moment in life where it was like, Oh. I’ve got to like repackage this, and it’s in a way that I don’t feel proud of. So what do I do with that? Not a way that I ever saw coming, and I think I think for me, that was the that was what was so difficult about making the decision to end our first marriage with my ex because for me, that was just like I was not a person who left a marriage in my mind. I was not a person who got divorced. And because that to me had so much meaning around, you know what I value, family family is important to me and commitments are important to me. And I’m a I like deep relationships and marriage is like so aligned with that. And so for me, the period that was the most difficult was not after I became a divorced person or was becoming a divorced person because we decided to get divorced. It was the months leading up to that where I could feel that I was becoming a person that I didn’t want to be because I was ashamed. And so I was like trying to hold, hold it together, you know? And for anyone who’s been in a relationship where you’re not ready to admit that it’s not holding together in the way it once was. You know, just like try to squeeze tighter and tighter and make pronouncements like, well, of course, we’ll never get divorced. Done it right out of there. Yeah. When you sort of look out for me, it was that I had been with my ex-husband through my 20s. We were best friends. We had sort of grown up together and decided to follow our dreams together. And then what we wanted just started to sound different. That was the conflict. It didn’t feel like we were building the same thing anymore. And that was really painful because it wasn’t a thing that we could control. Like, I tried. And then once I allowed that this marriage wasn’t going to last forever and we agreed together that it wasn’t going to last together and we took the steps that it takes to make that happen. I felt like I was shot out of a cannon so that the period for me after the divorce, after the papers were filed, it was like, Oh, I can like, let go of this heavy chain. And at 30 was like. It felt really scary because I felt like all my scaffolding had collapsed and I felt like there was no gravity because what I thought life was, so many of the details were not ground, you know, the stakes had been pulled up. So that felt scary, but also like, you know, Oh yes, I will go jump out of a plane with you because I might do that now in this new life.

Kate Bowler:         You know, this person might be, yeah. You have this really touching moment, too with your dad. I thought that gave us like a tender kind of. Permission and maybe an understanding in the midst of your embarrassment, your dad seemed to understand something about you and you about him.

Anna Sale:        Oh, I love that story. Like I thought back on it so many times because, you know, in our in our relationships with our family, often we remember when they said the wrong thing, you know?

Kate Bowler:        It doesn’t feel

Anna Sale: familiar. And this was a moment where my dad just said the total right thing, which was, you know, I was calling my parents right after sort of establishing that I was going to get divorced and I was like crying. I was alone in my apartment. It was like that call to your parents where you finally say, like, I need some care. You know, I talked to my mom first and she said, You know, it’s late. And she’s like, Let me get your dad and I can hear him like rolling over in bed and like he gets on the phone and and he had had a first marriage before I was born, before he married my mom. And he just said. I know exactly how you feel. And he just described you like you probably are exhausted and you can’t sleep like just that feeling of like, Oh yeah. And it was just like exactly the thing that made me feel like I could. Crawl up in the fetal position and need care, you know?

Kate Bowler:         Yeah, yeah, especially when someone who could embarrass you, like builds the bridge. Yeah. And then you’re both you’re both people in that moment. I love saftey dads.

Kate Bowler:        The premise of your wildly popular podcast, Death, Sex and Money, is that you draw into the light those uncomfortable topics, that that polite people feel would render them impolite.

Kate Bowler:         I don’t mean for this to sound like an overly large question, but like, what have you discovered about people’s secrets and fears and hopes when we do drag them into the light? What do you think happens when there’s like that uncovering?

Anna Sale:         One thing I thought a lot about as I was like writing the book, because when you’re doing the work of the interview, it’s all sort of textured. Yeah, and it’s it’s just it’s a conversation and you’re exploring together and and then it’s like, you can hear in their voice, something is happening. So it was only in writing the book to go like, what does happen? Like, what is that feeling that I’m hearing when you hear someone surrender something or let go of something or or feel heard? You know, I’m I’m not a mental health professional. I’m not therapist. I’m not someone who who can offer, Oh, you’re struggling with this. Here’s what might help. Like, I’m not offering. Anything other than listening. And I think what I’m hearing is that feeling that I felt when I. Decided I could get divorced, it’s that feeling of like. Like, I’m going to admit that this is part of me or I’m going to admit that there’s parts of me that have felt uncertain about this, that I feel conflicted about. And it’s it’s just letting things be. Messy letting ambivalence, just be and not feeling like you have to have everything buttoned up, I think that that is that’s tackling stigma, that’s tackling isolation. These conversations don’t fix whatever is the hard kernel of something that’s causing someone pain, but it means that they don’t have to hold it only by themselves.

Kate Bowler:        Mm-Hmm. Mm-Hmm. Because some of the people I talked to, you know, they are priests, so they are or pastors or they are offering absolution in some way. And others are, yeah, therapists and mental health professionals. And they’re offering engaged listening and often advice how you approach. It reminded me of our mutual friend, Graham Griffith, who would say, maybe. That we are structuring genuine inquiry, like there’s like you’re setting up the possibility for discovery and insight and maybe even surprise. With all of your employee questions, but like like the big heart, the to let it land.

Anna Sale:         Yeah, I I like what happens in an interview when you just explain at the top like, I mean, I have to do this with with our show, it’s called death, sex and money. So for someone who’s not aware of this program, I’m like, Don’t be alarmed. This is me, and I am so sorry to report to you now that you are currently on a podcast called Sex. And yes, I’m delivering that news. And then I’m saying, here’s why it’s called that our show looks at what all of us go through and can sometimes the things in life where we can feel the most alone. So I might ask you about things that are personal. I will ask you about things that are personal, but it’s in that spirit of sharing, and someone listening might be helped by hearing you share. And then I will say something like if I ask you about something you don’t want to talk about publicly on the podcast, that’s fine. But but that’s what that’s the sort of spirit. And what I think that does is it moves into what you were just saying that spirit of inquiry together, like we’re we’re co-creating something instead of this dynamic, which I think a lot of people bring to encounters with journalists is like, What are you trying to get me to say that you’re going to use in a way that you know, I didn’t intend or, you know, or am I going to be interrogated here? And it’s like, No, no, no, we’re going to have this conversation, and I will often start a question like this might not be exactly right or I might have the wrong read here. But when that happened, did you feel this way? You know, and then they’ll say, Yeah, we’re. No, not at all. And then you’re sort of just building this thing together.

Kate Bowler:         I imagine that friends often feel that way when they’re like approaching the sort of searing hot center of a lot of hard truth is they’re like worried that like they like, we crave intimacy, but it does feel very close to get hard to get closer and closer to the difficult center of things. I wonder whether it’s easier or harder to tell the people closest to us about those difficult core truths. Do you find that your outsider ness can, like, open up something maybe others haven’t been able to articulate before?

Anna Sale:        Oh, yes, absolutely. I think it’s much easier to talk to a podcast host about your interior life than it is to talk to your partner, your sister or your parent, you know, because the stakes are different, you know, but I I also think it’s it’s closeness. And then it’s also like, what are the patterns that you have in that particular intimate relationship? You know, like, you might have a friendship where it’s all about sort of being positive and cheerleaders and feeling like you’re in each other’s corner. And that can feel incredible. And it also can be tricky when you are seeing things differently or there’s something that has happened that you feel weird about and you don’t know how to bring up. And then there are really close relationships where it’s kind of like it’s all out on the table. I talked to someone at the door during part of part of my reporting, and I was describing myself and my family’s, mostly from the American South. You know, we’re very polite and nice, and sometimes that gets expressed with through kind of passive aggressive, indirect communication. And somebody said to me, Oh, my family were massive, aggressive, not necessary, aggressive, but I was like, Okay, that’s true. That’s not good or bad. It’s just different, you know?

Kate Bowler:        Yes, I always crave the kind of intimacy that a question asker like you in genders. I I love it when somebody is able to maybe say the awkward. Like, whenever I have a scan, I’m always unbelievably uncomfortable if it’s good news or bad news, if it’s bad news, it’s it’s terrible and it’s just awful to talk about if it’s good news. I immediately may be embarrassed that I was as nervous about it in the first place or worried that people will immediately rush to thinking that it will. You know that the next the scan after that won’t be worse than they’ll all stop worrying about me, and then I’ll be left alone. So either way, I’m like a mess to talk to. I want though the person who knowing that I’ve got like heavy scripts on both sides, I’m so grateful. I know either way is able to just like press in even with their presence to make enough space to say the harder, more complicated truth. I find your kind of long form intensity to be like such a such a gift and also maybe rare; rarer than I  thought, the rarer than I would have expected.

Kate Bowler: I don’t want to be like, Look there. There are two kinds of people people who want to be in the deep end. People want to be in the shallow. I just want to return to like childhood. Anna, who I picture now, is like. What’s the Adam family daughter with the serious, adventurous yet mysterious bangs? She was like, I need we need to talk about death, sex and money like this. Got some guys like willing to level about now.

Kate Bowler:        How do you think that some people just have this very high capacity for the deep end and other people and are bored by the alternatives, right? And there’s other people who just like, ah, are just better at the weather and long form less intense conversations. If so, what’s the breakdown?

Anna Sale:        Yeah, yeah. I mean, I find like certainly, I think there are people who like to keep it light. You know, they’re they’re good 10 guys, you know, good time gals, and that’s fine. Like, they’re fun to be around. And then there’s people who like me who like, you know, I’m a person. When I do get to go to dinner parties, I miss them a lot. When I do get to go to dinner parties, I love to make a new friend and I will learn a lot about that one new friends. 

 

Kate Bowler:   I know you will and I know you will. Yes. And you’re like, You walk away and you’re like, Did you know is third cousin had leprosy? No, I didn’t. I didn’t know that.

Anna Sale:        I know and I that feeds me. And like, I feel like I have learned as I’ve gotten older that maybe that person might want to talk to some other people at the dinner party to sort of try to recognize that it’s, you know, a relationship and they might want to, you know, mingle. But I also think that like finishing a book about talking about hard things in the midst of a pandemic, in isolation from all of my work colleagues and with two little kids, it was hard. I found I do have a limit of talking about hard things. It’s been actually this interesting learning process of like, How do I get? Where else can I get energy? It’s like the going deep in hard starts to just feel like I’ve done that too much. It’s been really delightful to, like, get into making cookies with my kids or, you know, remembering that you can go on a walk and notice the flowers and not have to make it a phone call. Catch up with somebody that you haven’t talked to for forty five minutes, who’s also a parent of young kids who’s also struggling.

Kate Bowler:        So those are good.

Anna Sale:        But also I can pace myself. So I do think it’s like recognizing that that can also have its own sort of challenges like depending on what’s going on in your life. Like, I imagine when you’re leading up to a scan, it might be a little different to be recording a podcast episode if you’re holding. Yeah. Worry about if this happens this and if this happens that and done it at that and then trying to talk to somebody else about their own, you know, thing that you really care about, but you’re also carrying something at the same time,

 

Kate Bowler: like you’re trying to talk me out of my belief in the inherent superiority of people and in the endless depth of conversation because I do love those people; and this, you know, this podcast community is like full of them because so many of us are either like the people in the thick of hard things or we’re like the, you know, the caregivers and the wonderful like people with really emotionally expensive loves. Yeah, in some way. And it sounds like the permission you’re giving to that part of the population is like it is OK to ease up.

Kate Bowler:       Is it OK to have frivolous television show? Yeah, it is okay to not catch up with every person else, I’ll think I’ll think about it and I’m not convinced that I’ll think about it.For those of us who are not deep tip people, not the deep end people there over in the other nicer side of the pool where they can see on the edge. Do you have any advice for people who might want to start practicing having harder conversations in their life? There’s maybe some. Some some lighter skills that they can develop, they can start to feel a little more comfortable.

Anna Sale:        Yeah, I mean, I think and I’ve had to practice this myself like it starts with being aware with when you catch yourself wanting to say something comforting, like it’s going to be OK, or I’m sure we can figure out a way through this or immediately go to the like. You know, somebody is talking to me about being frustrated about some work thing or some money thing in their life. I am one of those people who immediately will go to, well, send me your resume. I’ll help up, you know, like. And that that’s a useful and loving impulse. It’s like, How do I make you feel better? Mm hmm. But what what that does is you’re short circuiting what they’re trying to express to you. They’re trying to express a feeling. And the reason that I immediately go to like, what is the thing that I can offer that will staunch the bleeding here and help them? What’s the what’s the thing we can do? That’s an impulse that I have because it makes me uncomfortable that my friend or the person I love is sad. And so just instead of immediately going to the comforting thing to just take a breath and say, Oh, I’m so sorry. It’s that this sounds so hard, and then maybe they they might need your solutions, but you’ve you’ve allowed them to have a little space, you know? So that’s like the listening piece, which is actually really hard for the it’s it’s a skill and a muscle you have to build because most of us aren’t taught to be great listeners. And then I think if you’re if you’re someone who. It’s hard to start a conversation about something that’s been difficult for you. I have been really helped by a friend of mine who she she just introduced me to the idea of like both. And like, I, you know, so often when we’re giving a report to somebody about how we’re doing, we want to be like everything at work is great. These great things are happening and these great things are happening and I feel great. Or I’m having a really hard time because this, this, this, this, this, you know, and it can you can feel like you’re sort of like, here’s my progress report. Thumbs up or thumbs down. And I have this wonderful friend who also is raising little kids and like, has a big life. And she’s just like, Oh, both ends, both both glorious and also really hard. Fine. Like, like just allowing that. That can be true. And then you can you can sort of like, Oh, I’m not like giving some huge verdict on how I feel about how my life is going. That’s really heavy. I’m saying like, this is something I at once like. Feel OK about how this is going, but I’m noticing this. You’re sharing what you are doing is you’re letting the person you’re talking to into what you’re going through instead of narrating what you’re going through.

Kate Bowler:        Yeah, it’s nice.

Anna Sale:        And that’s what I think. Like true intimacy is. It’s like I’m along with me as I figure this out.

Kate Bowler:        Last full book report. Yeah, that well, I think people would probably feel a lot more comfortable starting with. There’s a little of this and a little of that, just like we know, weighed in as opposed to like well into the winter of discontent. Yeah, yeah.

Kate Bowler:        When I was an Ethan Hawke reference, that’s I felt really, really good about. It seems to people feel so freighted by their differences right now, just all like exhausted by their differences and the political and religious and, you know, responses to the pandemic. All these things immediately come to mind, and you gave this lovely example in your book about George and his stepdaughter about about maybe a moment of a possibility for change that you found really touching. I wouldn’t. I’d love to hear about it.

Anna Sale:        Yeah, I love them. I was reporting this book mostly during the Trump administration, but I think the the political environment and the political sort of feeling of like, how do we talk to people who are different than us has just gotten harder? And Pam is the stepdaughter of George. George is in his 80s. He’s a retired tool and die maker in Michigan, and she’s a life coach in the Bay Area. And you can sort of like picture what their politics might be just based on those demographic details. But they also had a really difficult history, like when Pam’s mother married George and they moved into George’s house. They didn’t get along, and it was really tough. And Pam wanted out of the house, had no warm feelings for George. Then they just really didn’t have a close relationship in her adulthood. And then Pam’s mother, George’s wife, developed dementia and got to the point where she can no longer live at home. So Pam had that experience of like, Oh, wait, this this person we both love and both want to give care to. It’s now not, not in the home anymore. Now, when I come to visit, do I stay at George’s house when my mom’s not there? You know, so. So that alone was shifting the relationship. So. So they talked about that. She did. George said, Of course you’re going to stay when you come see your mom. Early on during her one, her first visits to George’s home when your mom wasn’t there, there was a Trump rally nearby. George’s was a Trump supporter at the time. Pam definitely was not. And they were just like, so, you know, felt like surrounded by their political differences. And they’re not they’re not made up like they have different values that get expressed differently politically. But what George said to her is he turned to her and said him, I just want you to know our relationship is more important to me than politics. And she said, Well, thank you, George, you know? And it was just this establishing principle of, we are in this. Let’s acknowledge that there’s politics swirling around us, but like we’re going to try to protect this thing. And so they would do things like Pam notice George didn’t announce this, but Pam notice that he wouldn’t watch Fox News when she was in the house and they would watch Family Feud instead. So they watched a ton of family feud

Kate Bowler:        An amazing metaphor. And I love it. Amazing, right? And so it became a joke. They would joke about Family Feud, and then

Anna Sale:        Pam could even joke when she was leaving the house. She’s like, You can turn on some Fox News, you know, so so they could acknowledge their differences in a loving way. And then they actually created space for them. Eventually, to get to the place of George could be like, I don’t understand these sanctuary cities like Tell me why, why is San Francisco doing this? And they could talk about it without a sort of sense of like, let’s debate this and fight each other to the ground and instead be like, huh? And then she could say the same thing to him, how could you? And they could talk, actually and be curious about one another. But again, they they’d established that their relationship was most important. And then that relationship was there when Pam’s mother died, so they could be with each other. In their grief, you know, in their grief was different. You know, George lost his companion of decades and was really, really, really sad and Pam felt, you know, a sort of release was was felt the release of her mother not being suffering anymore and suffering anymore, and also was really overwhelmed by the feeling of healing that being able to be with George and her mother because of her illness had brought into her life so they could be with each other as they had these not the same emotions around grief, but they could be with each other through it.

Kate Bowler:        Mm hmm. That’s so beautiful. It also sounds like there’s like three steps to what we think of as the steps. Like if as an academic, I always want to be like, but asking the right questions will be the first step. Like, that’s not what you’re saying. It’s just like establishing that there is something beautiful or valuable worth protecting. Sounds like it was one of the first steps. It’s just saying this is this is this is this is important to me.

Anna Sale:        Yeah. And I mean, I think that that is a really important step. It’s like whether you’re saying, I have something I want to talk about and you want to create that space to have a slower, more intentional conversation instead of like bringing something up when you’re, you know, unloading the groceries or something and it’s just gets tossed off.

Kate Bowler:        It’s like ambush inquiry.

Anna Sale:        Yeah, yeah. To be intentional, it sets you both up. Both the person who’s like, surprised by the need for the conversation and for you. If you’re initiating the conversation for a little bit more success and then, you know, you could also do it the way George did, which is to be like, I’m feeling it, feeling it a dynamic here, and I just want to establish while you’re here, our relationship. I just want you to know our relationship is more important than politics. So it’s it’s kind of like seeing, you know, what are the things three steps sort of above ground level to just say, I’m so glad you’re visiting. And I want to. I want to know what’s going on with you. It’s like giving a mission statement to the heart conversation instead of being like, Mom, are you on medicine that you haven’t told me about? You know, which is no difference?

Kate Bowler:        Totally. That you told me about was just now sounding like an accusation.

Anna Sale:        Well, instead of that, it’s saying, like it’s saying, here’s why I’m asking this. I’ve I’ve noticed this and this, like, are you? How are you doing? Have you been, you know, are you seeing the same doctor? And it’s just like, Tell me. And the reason I’m asking is because I’m worried about you. You know, if it just kind of creating that space for. I’m here to listen. HUh.. You know, and it’s OK. I don’t know if all parents are like this, but I know my parents are like this. They have this feeling of I don’t want to burden you. So I find that I often want to say, like, it’s most important that I know what’s going on with you because I love you. You know, and you’re not. I don’t want to be protected. Yeah. You know, repeat that a lot.

Kate Bowler:        You also do something so nice with your voice, though, and I wish I could bottle. But it feels very it feels warm, but kind of neutral the way or the way you’re letting it land. Mm hmm. I don’t know how to like make you talk about your own voice because no one can talk about their own voices. Just like really aware that when you say it, I’m like, Oh, it doesn’t sound pointy.

Anna Sale:        I think that’s what you’re hearing. It’s not conscious for me, but I think what you’re hearing is when you say something that’s not like, I go to the desert, though, it’s like infused with pity or something like that. It’s that idea again of like, I’m making space for you. You get to tell me what the situation is,

Kate Bowler:        and you’re not preamble ing a lot because I, when I get nervous or if I’m approaching, I feel this all the time in interviews is if I’m approaching a hard question, I begin to explain it more.  And I’m so worried that they’re going to feel sad answering it. So then all of a sudden, since the dawn of time, man has thought something like, Whoa, whoa, I got get to the question. Like, I do think the fact that you keep your questions nice and short and a little a little lighter on the end feels it feels good to hear it that way. Mm hmm.

Anna Sale:        Yeah. What I do if I have that nervousness, I now will say I’ll say something like now again, this, this might be too personal, but I’m wondering. X so I’m both saying here’s a little signal that this is and also I want your positive consent. You know, I want I want like, you don’t have to answer this, but and then I sort of set it up where I can say, did that make you angry? You know that instead of like that must have made you so angry or whatever. Like, I don’t know, I’m trying to get them to sort of like, say, more like, that’s my question. Say more

Kate Bowler:       podcasts are a notoriously visual medium, so I put what I I wish people could see do is that when you said that, you like flagged like you just like, waved your hands all up in the air. I think that’s such a lovely way to think about like inching up to the hardest part is like just a little wave. Like, I hope they start talking about this doesn’t make you. I know I’m doing it. I would say something like with the I would do it like, I  don’t feel like you have to answer if it’s too personal, but I was I noticed that blank. Sounds like you’ve got a bunch of these good prefaces to like a hard thing. That would be good for for all of us to practice what we want to get up close.

Anna Sale:       Yeah. And to apply it to a personal life conversation, it would be something like. It’s just indicating I’m thinking about what your emotional experience is here, too. I’m not just plowing ahead, so it’s like when you’re having an argument with your spouse, you say something like, I hear you getting frustrated with me here. But what I’m trying to say is, you know, like it’s it’s trying to say, like, I’m listening. I’m not just like trying to fight when things get heated or sped up or, you know, we get flooded. So much of it is for me. It’s I notice that happens when I don’t feel like I’m being heard. That’s when conversations go off the rails with me. I’ll get defensive, I’ll get short out when I shut down and stop talking, you know? But if someone’s continually saying, I’m seeing there may be some emotions here and I might, you know?

Kate Bowler:        Yeah, but what about this?

Anna Sale:        You know, like, I’ll just be like, OK, I’ll try to stay in it with you. I’m trying here.

Kate Bowler:       Yeah, and that’s the heart of it. Makes me call you at a banana, you were like, you’re like cheerleading the process of just saying, I don’t always know exactly what to say. There’s not a great script here, but I will stay in this with you and I. Yeah, it’s all over your work and in your book and in your podcast and in who you are. And I I feel really lucky that you did this with me today. Thank you so much.

Anna Sale:       Oh, thank you for having me. It’s a real honor. Can I ask you one question? Yeah. Before we go, you said, I have these two feelings about scans and I have these sets of feelings if it’s going to be negative. And these sets said, if it’s not great, if it’s if it’s good news. I have these apps and I I want you said, like, I like those conversations where it’s like the soft middle. And I’m just wondering if somebody has said a thing that feels nice when you’re in that place.

Kate Bowler:        Someone said something perfect in this last scan. They said it was before it happened when I was nervous about it. They said, either way, I can’t wait to hear because we can do this together. And like, have a nice little note of anticipation, like either way, this is what this is, all I want to hear about that felt like it didn’t. I didn’t have to pre have that conversation. We could just have it in real time.

Anna Sale:        It’s really nice. Was that person a journalist? They’re like, Send me the breaking news right now.

Kate Bowler:        Totally moving. I say I know all my fear. People are journalists. You guys are brave in a way that I just love. It’s so scary, so scary to be around, but I like it.

Kate Bowler: This is such a hard one. These kinds of connections are never easy. How do we begin to love or even connect with someone who is so different? How do we bridge these gaps? The topic, the politics, the sheer awkwardness only highlighting the cracks in the ground under our feet. So can we bless these unnatural moments when we need so much more than talking points, when we need a special kind of grace? So here’s a blessing, then for hard conversations, for awkward moments, for a moment when you need to feel especially good at this very unlearned task. Here we go. Blessed are we who want to be part of the wild and beautiful experiment to find a common humanity who desire to come willingly into the gap that separates human from human? To love that family member or friend or colleague who feels like a stranger right now, especially the one you really don’t understand or secretly want to set straight. Blessed. Are we willing to stay in the gap in the contradiction of what we can’t understand? To actively work on disproving our own intuitions about one another in order to begin to see what they see? Blessed, are we swimming upstream against the current of our own frailty, our fears and emotions and willing to be wrong for a second to reconsider and to hold our integrity with kindness, desiring to see the lay of the land and play the course instead of the one we wished it could be, and to discover that humility is what makes love possible, make us brave, make us brave, make us full of incredibly implausible love to make these hard moments soft. The part where I get to thank everyone who makes this work at the Everything Happens initiative possible Lilly Endowment, the Duke Endowment, Duke University, Dick Divinity School and Faith and Leadership an online learning resource. Thank you for your generous support and my team. Jessica Ritchie. Harriet Putman, Gwen Higginbotham, Jessie Broome, Keith Weston, JJ Dickinson, Karen and Jerry Bowler. Jeb and Sammy. Your gifts make this work shine. I’m Kate bowler and this is everything happens.

 

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