Despite a nation/culture/society that finds itself in a period of severe polarization, I am happy to report that I am beginning to see more prevalent examples of people engaging in political conversations that manage to remain polite. This kind of civil discourse allows us to close the gap we perceive between one another and come to a place of better understanding where we can identify the common ground we share. Often there is a lot more of it than people tend to think there is.
How can one go about engaging in these prosperous conversations? Get off social media! Have these conversations verbally, not through textual mediums. Better still, have them face-to-face, whether in person or via video chat, like Skype or FaceTime. Tone is crucial and facial expressions are useful.
Beyond that, I think there are 3 key factors that make it not only possible, but worthwhile:
1. Set the Goal Correctly
As with any objective in life, you should start by identifying the goal. In this case, I find that the goal should simply be to exchange ideas. Leave aggressive persuasion to pundits and politicians.
Remember when etiquette told us that it is not polite to discuss religion or politics? It’s because these conversations often become heated, hostile, and aggressive, sometimes destroying relationships unnecessarily.
One reason this happens is because the goal is set wrong. If your goal is to win, to conquer, or to convert someone, whether about religious belief or political position, this angry progression will follow. Conversely, if everyone approaches the conversation as merely an information-gathering exercise, then the energy can be the same as just talking about the weather.
However, if you begin to recognize that anyone has a goal to convert you somehow, simply exit the conversation politely. Otherwise, proceed at your own risk!
2. Do Not Ascribe Intent
You will find this same advice in articles that talk about leading a happier life and it’s good advice. It is something to keep in mind all day, every day, but it is especially important in these conversations.
This one is a bit of a chore. For many, it is in their nature to assume the worst, to be offended and/or outraged. Giving a person the benefit of the doubt is required and we should work to be better at this in general, instead of defaulting so easily to offense. Just because someone holds an opposing opinion and tells you so, it does not mean that they want to hurt your feelings or are somehow otherwise insensitive or demeaning. Try to remove emotion and take the information at face value only.
3. Listen More Than Talk
This advice is also an overlap from other areas of life, particularly when building or nurturing relationships. The trick here is to truly process what is being said, rather than skimming the gist and preparing your rebuttal before the thought has even been fully articulated.
Similar to meditation, you have to work to quiet your own mind and prevent your own train of thought while another person is speaking. When they have finished, that’s when you can begin to work on thinking about what you’ve just heard. If you start this process too soon, it’s easy to miss important bits of information and to also misunderstand the whole of what’s being communicated.
Approaching tough conversations this way, we can come together better, find more common ground than we imagine exists, and decrease the volatility that seems so prevalent these days.
Here’s the most recent example I’ve seen of a civil, helpful, productive conversation between two unlikely participants – Blaire White, a transgender YouTuber & Ben Shapiro, the conservative editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire. I love it and hope to see more like this!