An alternate version of An Intro to Effective Political Discussion intended to teach classmates how to approach political discussion and speak with dissenters.
Edited/Published by The Mount Observer
Published in The Mount Observer (Volume 13, Issue 8)
Our nation faces a crisis unparalleled since the secession of eleven states. It is not due to economic instability, disease, nor terrorism, but an ideological threat; one which combats every American who looks at the news in agitation. With national controversies arising more frequently than ever, our nation’s deep cultural divide is becoming increasingly apparent with each passing exchange. Democracy welcomes dissent; thus, we should see much of our cohort as incorrect or misguided. However, our democracy approaches endangerment when we begin to view dissenting Americans as, not only false, but illegitimate, less worthy of a vote, or essential to silence. The last decade proves American society’s capabilities to reach this point.
In times such as these, it is vital that we, the electorate, acknowledge our role in mending social divides. The promises of democracy are ultimately fulfilled, not through institutions or economics, but rather our society’s collective adherence to democracy’s most fundamental principles: communication, tolerance and compromise.
This article hopes to uncover more of the democratic mindset through the practice of speaking with dissenters; hopefully teaching readers how to productively communicate with the ominous “other side,” as well as how to understand their perspective and embrace them as your national cohort.
Although much grander work is undoubtedly needed, the first step in addressing our social crisis comes down to individual citizens doing their parts – even if it just means going out and listening to fellow Americans.
Reevaluate Your Goals
It is pivotal when entering any political conversation to evaluate exactly what you seek to gain from the interaction. Sometimes, the goal of conversing isn’t necessarily to change the other person’s opinion, but more to gain their perspective and perhaps share your own. Keeping this in mind, we should try looking at friendly dissenters as a resource to learn more about the perspective of others and get a grander view of our nation’s ever so divided political landscape.
Thus, when you hear a belief which contradicts your own, it shouldn’t be interpreted as an attack, but rather an invitation to explore their perspective. Try to understand, not only their views, but their background, their home, and their culture; all the factors which have shaped their beliefs. This humanization of the ‘other side’ can be difficult once we are submerged in our echo chambers, but the process ultimately contextualizes their views and allows us to build sympathy despite ideological differences.
Listen and Respond Carefully
It is also crucial that you listen to dissenters rather than talk, and when you listen, do so openly and honestly. You will likely be amazed at how much respect and attention is reciprocated once someone is mature enough to start giving it. When it is your time to speak, consider wording carefully before giving your reply. No matter how incorrect you may perceive your friend to be, disrespect and negativity will only escalate the conversation to a point where nothing can be learned on either side. Small differences such as minor word choices and tone can make an incredible difference in how you’re perceived. Again, your goal is to learn more about their perspective and then share your own, so a condescending comment will achieve nothing but lessen cooperation and trust.
Ask Sincere Questions
One must consider what specific information they seek to gain from asking questions. Too often, I hear my peers ask something such as, ‘How can you stand knowing that your side is tearing apart the country?’ or ‘Doesn’t your side know how to use basic facts and logic?’ Questions such as these, no matter how sensible they may seem to the asker, are not sincere in their attempt to learn more about the issue or the nation. The first question, for instance, reiterates a sense of division, implies that the other person agrees that their side is ‘tearing apart the country,’ and features wording which is sure to draw offense. Instead, asking something such as ‘Do you worry that your party’s ideas of XXX and XXX may be furthering political divides?’ may be more constructive as it is worded respectfully, makes few assumptions, and is clear in what it’s asking. The ability to ask truly respectful and constructive questions to those who disagree is a significant asset in both a democratic citizen and a communicator in any field.