Leading with Love – by Linda Stout

The Spirit in Action team has been thinking a lot about love lately – what role does love play in our work together and our work with others?  Recently, I spoke at Georgia Southern University at a conference, and on the way from the airport in Savannah had a conversation with my taxi driver, Tim.  Hearing I was from Massachusetts, he wanted to know how I experience healthcare.  He believed that the healthcare law that requires every person to have insurance–providing lower cost or free insurance to those who cannot afford it–had “bankrupted the state.”

I explained that it had not bankrupted the state, but actually saved money in the long-run, and certainly improved healthcare for everyone.  I told him about the stark differences I had witnessed in recent visits to emergency rooms in Massachusetts and North Carolina. When I took my 20- year-old nephew to the emergency room in North Carolina, a hundred or more people were in the waiting room. They were there for problems that could have been prevented or taken care of at a doctor’s office or clinic, if only they had the insurance coverage that would’ve been available to them in Massachusetts.

Hospital employees told my nephew he had a nine-hour wait to see anyone. Only because my partner is a nurse and could advocate for him was he seen sooner. They rushed him into surgery for an emergency appendectomy.  He is fine now, but without insurance, my nephew—a community college student–is now saddled with a $50,000 medical bill.

As I spoke with Tim, he began to see more sides to the healthcare debate.

Our next discussion was about people he referred to as “illegal immigrants.”  Tim informed me he was a member of the Tea Party.  I took a deep breath and remembered the only way for people to change is for us to be in conversation with them – not in an adversarial way, but listening deeply and explaining our understanding in a way that is filled with real curiosity.

Sometimes, we forget to express love and openness to folks with different viewpoints from ours.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m far from being a fan of the Tea Party.  However, I know from many life experiences that by not limiting my interactions, friendships and conversations, I can reach people and see major shifts happen through asking open questions and authentically listening to the answers.  In this way, I have no problem saying what I believe, even though it may be an opposite perspective.

When Tim and I parted after our 30 minute taxi ride, he asked if he could pick me up when I returned to the airport. I knew something had shifted for him. And for me too.