By Chris Leavenworth
The extreme division of ideas in the U.S. is a real threat that looms over everything everyone values. I understand why over half the country is outraged right now. I’ve witnessed—and been on the receiving end of—callous responses from others who are frustrated with this outrage they don’t seem to understand.
And that’s frustrating.
The inflamed partisan issues that constantly barrage us through mainstream and social media outlets are often presented in a binary manner that keeps everyone at odds. Most people, despite party affiliation, will only recognize two possible simplifications for any trending matter, and won’t consider common ground positions that are often void of mainstream exposure.
Some worthy examples of concerns and values shared by people across party lines include improving veteran programs, protecting access to clean water, criminal justice reform, feeding the homeless, and building a better future for our children. Although people do genuinely care about these less controversial topics, they’re not always as vocal about them. They’re not polarizing.
I’m not suggesting the only issues that should be addressed are common ground ones, but they’re great ways to start conversations with people you don’t typically agree with. And now more than ever, talking and listening to receptive members from the other camp is something everyone needs to be doing on a local level. Even if the values you hold are upstanding and moral, and your ideas objective and accurate, they’re far less useful in an echo chamber.
The best way to engage someone politically is to be mindful of ego and personal emotions. Know your intention for having the conversation. If you derive satisfaction out of proving people wrong or being right, it will reveal itself and make the person less likely to hear what you’re trying to tell them. It will also make it harder for you to say the right thing. Likewise, getting defensive about a position, and not keeping a cool head or being unwilling to admit you’re wrong, immediately discredits any point trying to be made.
Be ready to be corrected and accept new information. If the person provides a fact or valid scenario about something you haven’t considered before, don’t argue it tooth and nail. You’ll be seen as unreasonable and bullheaded. This is a war of ideas, not a war of egos.
Ask questions and be ready to listen. In many cases, asking the right questions can lead a person to rethink their whole position. More importantly, before reaching any conclusions on your own, apply the same questions to your own values. Be impartial with scrutiny. People are much more receptive to a person displaying objectivity over any other agenda.
Lastly, be respectful and never engage someone who cannot be reasoned with. The average person feels threatened when their worldview has been challenged. You don’t have to. Stay vocal, be outraged, engage others and remain kind.