In a country divided by hyper-partisanship and polarization, the way we interact, get our news and have political conversations can either exacerbate extremism or lead to productive conversations that heal partisan divides and seek real solutions to the significant issues we face in communities across the state and country. But we can’t heal divides without talking to people who hold different beliefs from us.
“Shifting the tone of public debate so that citizens can freely communicate across the lines dividing them will be essential if Americans are going to address the immense issues confronting them.” (Hidden Tribes report)
Although 77% of Americans believe that our differences are not so great that we cannot come together, most Americans censor themselves on sensitive political topics, except among people they regard as like-minded. Yet studies show that if we converse only in echo chambers with people who agree with us and avoid political conversations with people who have a different opinion, we actually fuel extremism.
Experts agree that including a diversity of beliefs in political conversations is health for democracy. As David Blankenhorn, founder and president of the Institute for American Values, wrote in 2015: “Diverse groups make better decisions… Diverse groups are smart… Like-minded groups make us individually dumber.”
It may take some practice, but using civility in political conversations will lead to more productive conversations, deeper relationships and even possibly a pathway to finding real solutions for the challenging problems in our communities . Plus, if you listen with empathy and treat a person who disagrees with you like a thinking, feeling human being, you may even change their mind. Give it a try this Thanksgiving!
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Read these articles and put the principles into practice this Thanksgiving season.
- The Atlantic: “The Art of Navigating a Family Political Discussion, Peacefully“
- The New York Times: “Why Is It Important for People With Different Political Beliefs to Talk to Each Other?“
- Vox: “Experts Agree: Don’t Avoid Political Conversations With Family“
Follow these tips on how to have conversations with people who disagree with you:
- Choose to step out of your echo chamber and pursue conversations with people who disagree with you.
- Don’t try to convince them. Just ask questions and listen.
- Find the places where you can agree.
- Try not to judge others for their beliefs – try to understand their beliefs. Where are they coming from, why do they believe what they believe? What values do their beliefs represent?
- Keep calm.
- Put yourself in their shoes.
Find more tips on how to manage conversations when you disagree politically from the American Psychological Association.