America is in the midst of the weirdest, most polarizing election pretty much anyone can remember, which means your Facebook feed probably looks a lot like mine these days: lots of funny quips by friends who support your preferred candidate and the occasional, totally batsh*t insane post from that one uncle (or maybe in your case, niece) who supports that other horror show.
But let's stop and think about that for a minute.
If both sides of the debate recognize themselves in this description, it must be true that one side's self-evident joke is viewed as utter lunacy in the other camp, and vice versa. We're all essentially talking completely past each other on social media, but often in person too.
There has to be a way at least sometimes to have a better, more productive conversation. (After all, we're all going to have to somehow make it work together no matter who wins, right? Unless half of us move here, that is.) Radio host Celeste Headlee has some suggestions.
It's Headlee's job to have thoughtful exchanges even with people she deeply disagrees with, so she's learned a few things about how to dig for the insight and similarity underneath even glaring differences. She recently shared a few suggestions in an interview on the TED blog.
Everyone has something to teach you.
"Oftentimes we'll enter into a conversation, and somebody will say, 'I'm voting for Trump in the fall.' Conversation over. You immediately say, 'Nothing this person says is something I want to listen to, they have nothing to teach me,' and you end the conversation. And if the conversation does continue, you're not actually listening to them," she says, diagnosing what ails us. "We have stopped talking to people that we disagree with."
But the only thing that comes from handpicking our conversations like we handpick the people we follow on Twitter is greater polarization. "Everybody knows something that you don't," Headlee points out, "and so if you are stopping all of those conversations and only speaking with people who have similar experiences and opinions, you're not going to grow, ever."
Instead of putting your hands over your ears when that Trump-supporting colleague opens his mouth, Headlee suggests you try this technique instead:
when I'm sitting down with somebody, especially somebody with whom I absolutely don't agree, I sit down and I think through, "Okay, what if they're right?" Let's think about what would change, and how my mind would change, if they are right and I am wrong. And as they start to tell me things, as long as they're not completely made-up facts, I ask myself what it would mean if they're right. And then I ask them too. I say, "Okay, let's say you're right. What does that mean?" And try to get inside what they're thinking.
What does that look like in practice? Headlee gives the example of trying to understand the anger behind the views of a Trump or Sanders supporter (or even a Brexit supporter if you're across the pond).
"It could be fascinating and engaging and compelling to figure out where that is coming from," she says. "That's not always going to be the case, and there are going to be conversations you have to walk away from. But if you're going to have an argument with someone, the best way to do it is with an open mind, assuming that that person can teach you something, and that you're not there to teach them."
If you're intrigued by Headlee's ideas, the complete interview offers many more of them, including advice on how to deal with awkward pauses in a conversation and an argument against expressing too much empathy.
Have you had any success trying to talk sensibly with the other side in this election? If so, share your secrets in the comments.