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Listening • Understanding • Connecting
When You Enter A Conversation, Are You On A Donkey Or On A Horse?

When You Enter a Conversation, Are You on a Donkey or on a Horse?

By Marilyn Utz

I was talking with some friends the other day, and they mentioned that during Biblical times, when a king or leader rode into a town, the animal he rode on signified his intent. If the leader was riding into town on a horse, he was announcing that he came intent on war. Conversely, if the leader was sending the message that he came in peace, he rode on a donkey. I was impressed with the simplicity of the way this message of peace or war was conveyed.

At United and Together, we are working to heal the divide in our nation by helping people with differing opinions better understand each other by truly listening to one another. Often in life, if people feel heard, and especially if they feel understood, tensions melt away. A connection forms between two people when each of them feel heard.

So, when you enter a conversation with someone, are you on a horse (looking for war) or are you on a donkey (looking for peace)? Here are some ways to tell what you are signaling as your intent.

  • Do you talk more than you listen? (Horse)
  • Are you trying to understand WHY someone feels they way they do? Possibly why someone chose to vote for President Trump? Or why someone chose to vote for Hillary Clinton? Even if you don’t agree with their choice, do you understand better where they are coming from and what prompted their choice? (Donkey)
  • Is it important to change their mind, and make them understand why your choice is the right choice? (Horse)
  • Do you get to know the person you are talking to? Do they have children, are they originally from another country, what’s most important to them in life, do they volunteer anywhere? (Donkey)

These are just a few examples, but I think most of us can tell pretty quickly in a conversation if someone is greeting us on their horse or on their donkey. Just like the people in those towns long ago, we’ll be a lot more relaxed and comfortable if that person comes to us on their donkey in peace.

About a year ago I went to my first town hall meeting (What I Learned at My First Town Hall Meeting) and met a wonderful woman, who, happily, was in a different political party from myself. She was a republican who had voted for Trump, and I am a democrat who had voted for Clinton. I don’t think either of us had the candidate we had chosen on a pedestal; we just felt that he or she was the best candidate out of the two for our needs and the needs of our families.

In looking back on this conversation, both she and I came into the conversation on our donkeys. Right away, she saw my shirt with the United and Together logo and asked about the organization. We found out almost right away that we associated with different political parties, but we stayed on our donkeys. We talked about issues, our kids, where we lived, etc. We got to know each other. In looking back on this conversation, I had so wanted to know what she felt and why she felt that way; when I was listening to her, I was truly listening. I wanted to connect; I wanted to understand how she felt.

Later, right before the town hall began, she brought another friend over to meet me. The woman excitedly said, “Are you a Trump supporter too?” I could feel the enthusiasm that they might have another republican supporter in a room flooded with democrats, and I almost felt bad saying, “No, I’m a democrat.” My new friend I had been talking to quickly said, “But she’s willing to listen.” That was one of the biggest compliments I’ve been given in my life. And the other woman shook my hand with glee and introduced me to another friend. Sadly, that meeting became very heated and I was not sure how to approach these folks after the meeting (you can read more about that in the other article). Happily, today I think I could continue the conversation. I’m sure I’ll get the opportunity to prove that at some point, but for now I’m glad I feel more confident to approach even someone who might feel upset and unheard.

So, the next time you find yourself in a difficult conversation or talking with someone who has radically different views from your own, ask yourself “Am I coming to this conversation on my horse (for war) or on my donkey (for peace)?

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