The biggest problem in our society is a lack of compassion. When people feel ignored, shut down, and dismissed like their experiences are not being understood, they get angry.
Under the feeling of anger is fear. For some, it's fear of being misunderstood, shamed, and persecuted for their political beliefs. For others, it's fear of being physically assaulted, deported, or bullied following the election of a polarizing figure.
Regardless of your political ideology, the nation is filled with wounds that have been ripped wide open for the world to see, and it is more important now than ever to provide healing instead of adding salt. However, creating a healing environment cannot and must not come at the expense of minimizing people's lived experiences and realities of their daily lives.
Here are 20 ways to have more productive political discussions.
1. Listen to what people have to say, especially when you disagree.
Nothing is accomplished without opening yourself up to truly listen. How can you expect someone else to be open to your experiences when you aren't open to theirs?
2. Convey your appreciation of the person's unique lived experience.
Everyone needs to feel like their voice matters when engaging in a conversation. Show them that you value them as humans, even in disagreement.
3. Separate facts from feelings, and be clear as to which you want to discuss.
Facts and feelings often get tangled up with one another, but if you want to be productive, try to highlight and address them separately.
4. Realize that you don't have to agree, but you do need to listen.
Listening is the foundation of productive dialogue, and it needs to go both ways even when it's hard to hear.
5. Don't try to change the person's perspective in this conversation. Instead, focus on discovering what it's like to be that person.
Push yourself into the discomfort of another person's shoes to see the world from their perspective. When you try to understand someone it helps you comprehend their worldview and models to them the behavior you'd like them to employ.
6. Don't aim to shame. Aspire to facilitate self-reflection.
Don't be condescending when pointing out a lack of awareness. It's much more productive to show them you're willingness to consider their position and question your perspectives, so that they can do the same.
7. Acknowledge your own shortcomings and struggles.
Understand your own bias, prejudice, and your social bubble. Without exploring and admitting your limitations, you are perpetuating the problem.
8. Educate yourself on current events and historical contexts from multiple perspectives, not just the ones you agree with.
Part of having informed conversations is in the information, and this goes for all sides. Make sure you get news from multiple credible sources, and evaluate everything you read.
9. Build scaffolding instead of constructing a barrier with your words.
Stop throwing complex sociological and psychological jargon at people and start making your message more approachable. When you don't meet others where they're at in terms of terminology and concepts, it turns a conversation into a personal attack, leaving someone with no choice but to enact defenses to protect their self-worth.
10. Look for areas of shared experience, past or present, to build a bridge.
Emphasize connections whenever possible to make all parties feel safe.
11. Don't immediately counter with your opinion--ask questions first.
Be patient, learns from others, then share your thoughts.
12. Know when to take a step back and protect yourself.
These are difficult topics that elicit strong emotions--it's always okay to excuse yourself when you feel overwhelmed.
13. Don't attack a person. Provide alternative perspectives and information.
Take your foot off the gas pedal and hand the person a map instead of running them over.
14. Don't minimize the impact of decades of violence and oppression.
Americans have a long withstanding history of intergenerational trauma and it's important that it is recognized when considering current events.
15. Share how you formulated your current perspective.
Right or left, red or blue, share how you came to believe the things you do.
16. Communicate when their language crosses the line and makes you feel unsafe.
Set appropriate boundaries and don't put yourself in a dangerous situation.
17. Monitor your internal thoughts and feelings during your discussion.
Always check in with yourself so that you can stay as relaxed as possible, and walk away if you become too heated.
18. Don't expect a full resolution of the disagreement--ever.
One truth about life is that the pendulum is in perpetual motion.
19. Challenge yourself to avoid regressing to splitting and dichotomous thinking.
Fight your instinct to remain closed off to the other person's experience and label them as all good or all bad. The more you can tolerate the good with the bad, and the love with the hate, the more mature your thinking will become.
20. Don't embody the behaviors you're rebelling against.
Easier said than done, but of vital importance when discussing difficult topics.
Be curious, courageous, and compassionate when discussing politics and current events. It's up to each of us to be the change we'd like to see in the world.