Feeling Unseen, Unheard, and Threatened, now what?

My husband and I own a 200-year-old farm about 90 minutes outside of Washington, DC. Sixty six acres of beauty, peace, and tranquility, Stoney Creek Farm has been a place of wonder for generations. Since 2006, it has been operating as a bed and breakfast and event venue, but I am now proposing that we change the farm into an agritourism resort. This has turned Stoney Creek Farm into something more—an unexpectedly fertile ground for leadership lessons. 

The proposed change has stirred strong feelings in the immediate area, and to my surprise, dozens of signs opposing Stoney Creek Farm have appeared around my property these last several months. The signs make a variety of claims that are not true, and for the most part, the sign-makers have been unwilling to visit the farm or have a conversation. I’m deeply committed to the farm, so the criticism has, at times, felt very personal, and the entire experience has left me feeling unseen, unheard, and sometimes threatened.

A long time ago a leadership coach told me, “that which is most personal is most universal.” I forgot that adage until recently. When I remembered it, I realized I was likely feeling exactly how they were feeling. 

This last Monday I held a public information session for the project, and I can honestly say for the first time I felt completely free of all frustration, anger, and fear toward those who oppose my farm. Instead, I felt deep empathy. I realized we could disagree and I could still authentically acknowledge and feel their experience.

This is not a Pollyanna view of the circumstances. The situation with some of my immediate neighbors remains tense. I can’t control that. I can, however, move forward with clarity, remember those wise words of my coach many years ago, realize the universal nature of our emotions, and acknowledge the validity of others’ experiences – particularly those I disagree with.

Who or what are you struggling with right now? How can you acknowledge the validity of their experience while still moving forward with your vision? Consider viewing the situation from the other side’s perspective, and you may come to some new realizations about how to move forward.