Avoiding that ‘Missed Opportunity’…
This is a continuation of my previous article, A Missed Opportunity, where I pointed out how conversations can often go awry. What I didn’t do is offer solutions.
I recently read a status from an individual who lamented with regards to political debate and conversation, “When each side thinks the other is brainwashed, will true communication ever be possible?”
I feel her pain. I’ve often thought the same thing to myself, about people that populate all areas of the political spectrum, not just the folks who might oppose me in the arena of ideas. You find zealots everywhere.
It’s easy to get frustrated, especially when you have a lot of love and respect for the person with whom you are conversing, or debating. As a social animal, we all desire to be an accepted member of a group. We like to think that others in our group are as ‘smart’ as us, or, in other words think like we do, because we all think that we’re the smart ones.
But, let’s face it; there is a large contingent of people that you are never going to reach. Even, maybe especially, the people that hold positions that have an incredible number of inherent contradictions. We also like to think, or maybe even need to think, that the people we respect, or hold as close to us, are as smart as we think we are. It reflects on us, if it turns out that they aren’t.
So in the end, you have to cut bait with some people. You have to learn to recognize when the conversation isn’t going anywhere. You have to walk away when you understand they aren’t listening with the intent of discussing ideas, but only listening with the intent of driving their own tired points home.
There are some hard rules to institute and maintain if you want to be effective. First things first, you must remain rational. You can’t take anything personally or as a judgment that your opponent is passing upon you. You can’t resort to labeling and name calling, and you must always steer away from facts and opinions that cannot be substantiated. Your voice must remain even and reasoned, even in an online social media debate.
You have to resist passing judgment, or seeming to do so. Stick with substantiated facts, and logical progression. Resist the urge to speculate as to motive (of anyone else) and refer only to what has actually happened. Do your research. Admit when you don’t know something and be willing to pause the conversation while you check yourself.
Bring your morality to the conversation, but not your Faith. Leave your faith locked in your heart. Don’t use scripture of verse or morality tales of any type to present your point- it detracts from what you are trying to say. It opens you up to ridicule and doubt. Remember that yourlogic/morality baseline is not necessarily the same that someone else might be operating from.
There are basic truths and basic moral principles we can get together on without referring to faith. If the person you are speaking with cannot agree on things like the golden rule, the sanctity of life or respect for others, move on. You’ll never convince them of anything. You can’t ‘save’ them.
Which brings me to another point; you can’t ‘save’ everyone, regardless of how completely illogical their points may be or how much they contradict themselves. In fact, I would submit the more illogical and self-contradictory that they are, the less chance you have of helping them see or understand logic. And the funny thing is, they often view themselves as trying to ‘save’ you…
One of the hardest things to come to terms with is this: you might be wrong. We’ve been investing all of this energy and passion into backing our point of view, that it hurts to realize that you might have said something wrong. Even more so if it’s a lynch pin of your argument. Take a breath, let it go, walk away and rethink your position. The worst thing you can do is keep yelling at the top of your lungs because you don’t want to admit ‘defeat’.
Another hard rule to wrap ones head around is this; it may take forever for a person to see your point. You have to do your best and walk away knowing that you presented your most logical, sensible, rational points.
All of this is the hard way to do it. It’s the proverbial high road and it isn’t easy, not by a long shot. But in the end it is the only way. Yelling and name calling, accusations and speculations, unsupported facts and dominating the conversation seem to be, at the time, much more effective and satisfying. But in the end, do we engage in these conversations to blow off steam, or to change minds? Isn’t the goal to change minds? Aren’t we trying for that magical moment when our opponent sees that shiny nugget of gold that changes their perspective?
It might seem impossible, but we as individuals can only do what’s right- on any side of a debate. We can only keep waking up every day, keep our conversations rational and respectful, and keep moving on to the next person when nothing works.
It’s slow work changing minds. It’s frustrating and it can be unrewarding if you let yourself get caught up in ‘winning’ or if you demand immediate results. I have found that having a rational dialogue, never calling names or raising your voice, can bring people back to the conversation. It might be hours, days, week, or even months; but I can’t tell you how amazing it feels when you get someone who comes back and tells you that YOU are the reason they started thinking. YOU are the reason they stopped calling names and accusing.
It can work. We just have to remember who our audience is and adjust our conversations appropriately. Keep a political conversation logical, calm, and most important of all, POLITICAL. Don’t throw any other subject into the mix (like faith). It’s not about ‘winning’ the conversation; it’s about doing what’s right.
Mining for gold takes hard work.