I went to a friend’s birthday party a few weeks ago and it was fabulous to see people and engage. While I wouldn’t say I know this person incredibly well, we have played in the band together for years. She’s also married to another band member and the band even played a short set at the party. Their house is an amazing home for entertaining, with large rooms, outdoor spaces (though we had a couple heavy rain showers while we were there) and a kitchen absolutely MADE for hosting. Drinks were flowing (alcoholic and non), the band played for our captive audience and many of us got to catch up with those we hadn’t seen in what felt like years, literally in some cases.
There’s also a full size pool table set up on what I believe may be the “formal” dining room. Eventually the balls were racked and the friendly competition, coupled with all the requisite trash talk began. And when that got old, someone in the room made an off-hand comment and the topics turned to gun control, politics, money in politics, etc. All the things you’re NOT supposed to talk about at a party. Why is that?
I have never been one to shy away from a political debate. The fact is I am very much drawn to them, with certain people. I do not generally enjoy chatting about politics, etc with those I already agree with because honestly, what is the point? I mean, you can “yes, and” until the cows come home, but sooner or later you’ll both just be so amped up against “the other” and there’s no argument going on because nobody is there to represent the other side. You and your agreement partner will likely make some assumptions that aren’t true and deepen your convictions, widening the distance between you and the proverbial other, making it more difficult for you to connect with others in the future. That’s not good for anyone.
But in this case, I know I always have a willing sparring partner, particularly about firearms, and yet we remain friends. In this case, another gentleman was there on the “pro-2A” side, for lack of a better description. My opinion on gun control, gun safety and the like are actually quite nuanced, though I am not a gun owner myself. For the better part of an hour, the three of us spoke, at times heatedly, on the topic and we all lived to tell about it. We even found some areas of agreement along the way. Overall, I truly enjoyed the discussion and even learned a couple things. In the end, my friend and I shared a big hug and I even hugged the other guy for sharing in the conversation with me.
Just because you believe passionately in something, doesn’t mean you can’t have a conversation about it with someone who disagrees with you. In fact, I would say a number of our points of political polarization in America are caused by the fact that we DON’T talk with each other about the important stuff. So here are a few tips about how to have a friendly and productive discussion about a “hot topic” with someone you disagree with.
- Assume the other person has the best intentions and comes to their point of view in good faith based on their life experience.
- Be curious and ask questions. Seek to understand how their experience could lead them to a different conclusion than yours.
- Be open to learning new facts on the topic. You may have strong opinions and you may have some facts, but unless you are a scholar on the topic, it is unlikely you know everything.
- Respond to questions directed at you in good faith, honestly and openly. You can be confident in your beliefs, but understand the purpose of the conversation is not to convince anyone of anything.
- Admit openly if there is something you don’t know or hadn’t previously considered. This is an opportunity for you to grow.
- Don’t think of the conversation as a conflict just because you are sharing opposing ideas. There is no need to be adversarial, most of the time.
- Never make personal attacks or call the other person names. Being mean or dismissive won’t make your discussion partner feel very safe in your presence.
- If at all possible, try to have these conversations IN PERSON. It is too easy for each of us to misconstrue, misunderstand and take comments out of context online and even over the phone.
- Always say thank you and shake hands, fist bump or hug the other person when you wrap up your conversation, Covid and comfort-level permitting.
I want to encourage each and every person who reads this post to exercise this muscle (some of us have NEVER used it) over the next few months, even this weekend, if you have the opportunity. It’s great to talk about the weather, sports and the stock market (“safe” topics), but we have some important work to do to mend our culture and our country. We cannot carry on as we have been. We are all too broken, too desperate, too traumatized to say this is a good as it gets. Our country needs us to do better and this is one small, but important step. We all need to be able to talk and find points of connection in the chaos. If you can find someone who will engage in these conversations with you, you already have one vital thing in common; you are working to bridge our divides. America thanks you!