As the US political system begins to gather steam heading toward the next primary election, your attitude will determine whether you are simply discussing the issues of the day or are locked in epic battle with others. Presuming your attitude is one of discussion instead of battle, here are a few guiding principles that can help you have a more civil discussion.
1. 1. Beginning statements and comments with accusations and generalizations will put the other person on defense immediately and then they are looking for an opportunity to switch to offense. For example, statements like, “The <insert political party here> are just out to destroy the country.” Will always start the discussion on the wrong foot.
2. 2. Listing 100 reasons why you won’t vote for a particular politician is always less effective than stating 10 reason why you would vote for a particular politician. Rather than have a negative attitude where you are “against” many things, choose to have a positive attitude where you are “for” many things. You can change the whole course of a conversation by building up rather than tearing down.
3. 3. Please remember that we all see the world through our own filters of experience and thought. People will see and interpret the same event with completely different outcomes based on their own past experience and based on how they think. The way you think is most likely the way you believe others think. For example, if you believe that there is a lot of opportunity still available and you believe hard work and determination are the key to success, then you are going to assign that belief to others as well. Therefore, if someone is unsuccessful, it is because they are not hardworking or determined. Others may believe that the deck is stacked against them, and that they are not playing in a fair game. They will then believe that someone who is unsuccessful is the victim of injustice. Both perceptions are just as real and just as common. The more you understand that we all have different experiences the more you will set yourself up for success on the next guideline.
4. 4. Ask questions and listen. Too many times we miss outstanding opportunities to not just engage in discussion with wonderful people, but we also miss out on the opportunity to learn from others with a different background and way of thinking. Please note that this does not mean ask questions to try to make the person seem extreme. For example, if someone says, “I support the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.” asking the question, “so does that mean you think people should own tanks and nuclear weapons?” is taking the discussion to the extreme. Not only do you not make any progress, but you actually lose ground because you lose all credibility with that person. Try instead asking, “so what would reasonable gun control legislation look like to you?”. You might just find by listening to their answers that you have more points of agreement than you have points of disagreement.
5. 5. The best way to win an argument is to avoid the argument. Once the argument begins no one wins. Surely you have had an argument with someone before who just kept making ridiculous and random points until you walked away frustrated and furious. Did they win the argument? They think they did because you gave up, but you know they didn’t win the argument because you didn’t change any of your beliefs or views. So in reality, no one won and you both lost. Instead try to use the other guiding principles above to listen, be positive, and look for common ground. You may not always agree with the other person, but at least you will be able to agree to disagree on only a few points while still having respect for each other.
Not everyone thinks the same way, or will agree on all topics. There are no “obvious answers”, especially when dealing in politics. If you would like to get through this next political election cycle without blocking or unfriending half of your social media contacts, then do what you can to use these 5 guiding principles. This is not a guarantee that you won’t still block or unfriend a few folks, because you can only control yourself. You cannot control how others act, though you can share these guiding principles with them. At the very least, by using these techniques you will come out with a greater understanding of the issues and you will have people who enjoy political discussions with you.
Your attitude is the most important tool in your toolbox. You already have it. If you use it well, it can gain you everything. If you use it poorly, it can cost you everything. How you use it is entirely up to you.