A Conversation Worth Having



You’ve either experienced it yourself or at least heard of it: Your family is gathered around a table for Thanksgiving dinner when your uncle says something like, “Liberals are just socialists!” And your aunt fires back, “Oh yeah? Well conservatives hate immigrants!” A fight may then ensue in which the family members hurl insults and call each other bigots, snowflakes, deplorables, bleeding hearts and idiots. This scene occurs at some dinner tables more than others, usually depending on the amount of difference between each family member’s political, religious and cultural values.

But it happens every day and it happens everywhere. There’s a saying that politics boils down to coalition-building. In every culture, at every time in history, politics is just people trying to persuade each other to buy into a certain vision of how things should be done and who should do them until a powerful enough coalition is built to enact those policies. So build a coalition of people thinking about achievable solutions to real problems instead of making enemies.

If you open Facebook or Twitter, or have a conversation at the water cooler at work, and someone says something offensive to your political views, the productive thing to do is to recruit them rather than rebuke them. If you really believe you’re right, then make your case, but also keep in mind that none of us can ever be 100% positive we are correct in our views. And constructive criticism is fine — but keep it constructive. Otherwise, you forfeit that unique opportunity to win someone over from the Dark Side and actually impact the way they think, speak and act. You can either insult someone or persuade them — you can’t do both. And insults make a dangerously divided world that much more divided, while persuasion invites someone to be respectful to others in a way that may actually work because it’s communicated respectfully to them.

America has been deeply divided as long as it’s existed, but we live in a unique moment of crisis in which we can’t even agree on the most basic facts of reality. Every day, we scroll through social media feeds tailored by esoteric algorithms to confirm our existing biases and sell us ever more partisan content and ever more sensationalized caricatures of the other side. The results of every search on Google and YouTube are customized to show us content that we already like and agree with so we will click on it. And if conservatives and liberals can agree on anything, it’s that [most] press is hopelessly biased. This is all a disaster for democracy. Conservatives and liberals can’t figure out how to disagree on policy while still recognizing that the other side is made up of intelligent people with legitimate concerns and perspectives. If we are ever going to swim back upstream against the current of inherently polarizing information technologies and empower ordinary Americans to govern themselves, then we will need to heal our national discourse and have more constructive conversations on more respectful terms. We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, have to remember how to listen to each other and how to speak in a way that will be heard. So next Thanksgiving, when your aunt and uncle start shouting MSNBC’s and Fox’s talking points at each other, the choice is yours; Either let them berate, attack and ignore each other out of ever learning something from the other’s point of view, or do the fundamental work of a democratic society and start a conversation.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here