I’m trying hard to follow my own advice. My success rate is low. I yell at the TV a lot, especially during the news. I yell at my Facebook friends when they post things that are dramatically opposed to my point of view. I spend too much time judging people with differing social and political views. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth.
I’m trying to change. This is not easy for me. I can be as self-righteous and obnoxious as the people I am calling self-righteous and obnoxious. I think Jesus said something about the plank in your own eye and the speck in your neighbor’s eye (check out Luke 6:42). Yup, that’s me sometimes, forests growing out of my eyeballs. It colors my relationships with people I care about even if I never say the words to their face.
So, here’s my self-discipline improvement plan for talking to people with whom I disagree. I think if we all try a few of these suggestions the world will be a better place. Wish me luck, I need all the help I can get.
- Ask open ended questions about sensitive issues (avoid questions like, “are your out of your &%^$& mind?).
- Really listen: It’s hard to know what someone is saying if you are thinking up your next smart-ass retort.
- Affirm the relationship you share (avoid “I love you even though you are a jerk).
- Remember you are not trying to change their mind (this is a hard one because deep down you really are trying to change their mind).
- Avoid lumping large groups of people together (“All YOU people are the same” is not helpful).
- Remember that while snarky is fun, it doesn’t get you anywhere (this is really hard for me because I’m so good at it).
- Say things like “help me understand” (and don’t reply “how can you be so stupid?).
- Use non-inflammatory language (“listen you moron” is not conducive to ongoing conversation.
- Break complex issues into manageable parts: on gun control, talk about assault rifles, licensing, mental health and privacy, Second Amendment etc.
- Try to find common ground. For example, I assume all our families and friends think children being slaughtered in their classroom is a bad thing. If not, we need new friends and long-term family therapy.
- Don’t be afraid to end of the conversation if it goes badly. “I don’t want to say something I will regret” is better than saying something you will regret.
- Remember you are talking to a person, not a position. Avoid demonizing, dehumanizing and shaming someone.
The capacity for civil discourse in the midst of disagreement is crucial for healthy relationships and for a healthy society. It is at an all time low in the current maelstrom of our culture. I’d like to blame the Occupant at the White House, but I think he has just given tacit permission for people to do what they want to do anyway. He sets a poor example that some people willingly follow. When I am at my worst I want to follow as well. Name calling and blaming and shaming are lower parts of the self that can be easily called forward in an environment that normalizes the behavior.
It’s just another thing to #resist.