A Guide to More Meaningful Conversations
As the 2020 Presidential election draws nearer and nearer, I think more and more of the potential divide this country faces.
Sure, now the country is seemingly very divided across political lines and what I say may seem obvious, but the divide I speak of cuts so deep that it will surpass political beliefs and could very well push us into a new civil war; a civil war of ideas; people fighting either to protect or to change the culture of this country. And for some, the aim would be to radically change perhaps not just the country’s culture, but the country itself.
Of course I think any means to do so will ultimately fail but the possibility of potential gains on this front, either in January, if Biden were to win, or four years from now, will both have unforeseen consequences for the country. Now I will state that I do not think that Biden would try to implement any real radical forms of change but I do think those who will try to influence said change will have an easier time laying down the groundwork.
Likewise, conservatives must understand that the left sees Trump as someone who is moving the country backwards culturally. Because of this, it becomes more and more apparent for the need to have meaningful conversations across the country.
Yes, there is a need to talk not just to those who we disagree with, which is most important, but also with those who we do agree with. We must have conversations so we can not only better understand the “opposition” and move the country forward along with them, but also to understand the opposition within our own ranks so to speak. We must have conversations so that we can better recognize those who act and speak as hypocrites and those who misrepresent our beliefs so we can find a way to clearly and effectively communicate those beliefs without being demeaning towards, or attacking the moral character of, others as we have no right to do so especially when we do not know them.
So, when it comes to having political and or cultural conversations, there are three main questions or statements that I think everyone should always keep in mind and think about during those conversations.
The first is “What do I actually know vs. what I think I know?”
This question is always important to ask but I think it is even more so when it comes to one's knowledge on beliefs that they do not hold as their own. Most people, when they engage in conversation, to some degree, will have this preconceived notion or generalization of what another person or persons might think or say. This is especially true when these conversations are with people who we know we will disagree with. This in itself is a barrier to achieving any real understanding in any conversation. Acting as a catalyst to this is the fact that we will instinctively, and most likely unconsciously, be more concerned with how to respond to a point in opposition rather than attentively listening, thinking about, reflecting upon, and trying to flush out the important and perhaps even valid points of the ideas of those whom we are conversing with. This is due of course to what we see and hear.
The problem however is the fact that the political climate in this country is saturated with statements and events designed with deceitful intents. The whole idea of truth is blurred so much so that we may not realize how hard it actually is for one’s self to be able to comprehend another’s reasoning and, by extension, find a way to agree with it. I have alluded to this in the past. It is why I have been concerned with defining conservatism as it is most widely accepted and pointing out some likely key differences between conservatives. It is also why, in the future, I will talk more broadly about how all Americans regardless of political ideology, to some degree, think differently from others including those who think and believe as they do.
Because of this, we need to stop approaching conversations with a preconceived notion of how we think they will go because, bottom line is, most if not all Americans want the same thing and we will be surprised by how much common ground we will find by just going into a conversation willing to momentarily set aside what we think we know about a subject, event, group of people, or set of ideas and treat every conversation as if you’re learning something for the first time.
The second thing I think is important is the question “What are the flaws in my thinking?”
By asking this question, the aim is not necessarily to discredit your thoughts and beliefs, but to help you, just as it implies, find any flaws in them. Naturally, it is hard to effectively do this alone but by keeping this question in mind during conversation, flaws will become apparent to you. These flaws could be in your method of communication; they could be flaws that make whole ideas invalid; these flaws could also just be lines of thoughts that cause you to realize you don’t actually know enough about what you speak.
This last point is very much related to the previous question as well. By asking this question, over time two things will happen. One, you will start to shed the ideas or certain components of ideas that are keeping you from effectively communicating your beliefs or are making your beliefs less appealing to others. As a result, your ideas and train of thought should slowly evolve over time, leaving you with ideas that can hold their own weight so to speak, allowing you to not only more likely be able to persuade others but also to be able to create new, more concrete beliefs.
This is very important when conversing with others about personal thoughts and beliefs but is just as important when talking about some of the important political and cultural ideas like the ones that hold the attention of most Americans today. It is important because, for the most current topics and events, people are more concerned with finding the flaws in the beliefs of others rather than their own. I have alluded to this in the past as well. Because of this, most conversations only consist of flaws in thinking/problems with ideas and hardly ever consist of and result in any meaningful and sustainable solutions. Also because of this, the atmosphere of these conversations are often nothing less than confrontational.
However, if people approached these conversations thinking about their own flaws, two things would happen. One, the subject matter (the points that are trying to be made) would be focused much less on the flaws of one side or the other and more so on actual, legitimate, bi-partisan solutions. The other thing is that, naturally, the atmosphere of those conversations would become more civil and humane and will contribute to relaxing the tension in the political climate in the country.
The last thing that should be considered is a statement rather than a question and is focused exclusively on groups of people who we identify as/with. We need to recognize and call out those who misrepresent our beliefs or who defends them but unjustly. In other words, do those who are the members of a group I identify with make it hard for others to relate to or sympathize with the group? This is, in part, something that needs to be thought about but also discussed within our own echo chambers.
Both the left and the right consist of overwhelmingly decent and rational people but often it is those on the extreme ends of the spectrum who hold the attention of most of America. At the same time, there are still those who may not be extremists but still, from time to time, act or speak in an irrational manner that does not reflect the group as a whole.
This is true not just in terms of the left or right but any type of group, political or not, in which someone may identify as being a part of. Along with recognizing these people, we should always try to separate ourselves from them as effectively as possible, making it hard for others to associate them with the group.
This is one need for having such a conversation. Another thing is that we need to actively work to keep the attention that they do get from allowing them to have any real influence. This influence could be positive for the small extreme or negative to the group as a whole. The easiest thing to do, especially in this age of social media, is to constantly showcase all the good things that happen within a group or by members of a group. In the political world, possibly the only hard thing about this is that people would have to break out of their echo chambers a bit but I believe doing so is well worth it.
Though this a conversation that needs to be had among like minded people, solutions will help in having more productive and meaningful conversations with those of different beliefs. By disassociating a group from its irrational and sometimes extreme members, a barrier to understanding is broken down. Just by doing this, it will be easier for one who disagrees to listen because you, the group you are defending or the subject you are discussing, is less likely to be associated with something negative or something that they don’t trust. They are also more likely to sympathize with your ideas.
Also by doing so, there is one less thing to be held against the group or serve as a barrier to certain beliefs of the group. Another thing that this recognition does is give insight and clarity into the feelings of how/what others may think about the group and the group’s beliefs before and during conversation and will allow us to address it from a point of view that is more sympathetic to their own.
The time to come together and actively work to understand each other is not yesterday or tomorrow. It is not “I’ve tried” or “I’ll try later”. The time will always be now. There is no reason to lose a friend or have a fall out with a family member or family over any sort of belief, but in this context, especially political belief.
In the introduction of this article I used the word opposition in quotations. I did this because though the country is filled with many people with varying and often opposing beliefs, by no means should our fellow Americans be seen as opposition or a sort of enemy. Like I said, both the left and right consist of overwhelmingly decent and rational people and as Americans we all want the same thing.
Therefore, we should not approach all of our conversations initially with an intent or idea of opposition because the only real opposition is just in the ideas. The goal is the same. In order to have more productive and meaningful conversations, we should not approach every conversation as conservatives talking to liberals or right vs. left. No, we should approach them as Americans talking to other Americans.
Written by Tyler Sanders