That title above is pretty long. This maybe should have been titled "Empathy and understanding the other side’s side.
I wish I would have been on the debate team in high school, but even speech class scared the shit out of me, so there was no debate on whether I’d take debate class. Many years later I feel like it would have been the most crucial of any skill to learn—how to research, reason, and present a side to an argument—but most importantly, to understand the other side(s) of an argument so you could be prepared to respond. That is something woefully lacking in today’s political climate. We instead seek out information that only conforms with the way we already think. How boring is that?
As part of my 100 days, I’ve been reading three different conservative websites, so every time I see something I agree with in the NY Times, I go see how it’s presented at Fox News (and the National Review and the American Conservative). It’s incredibly interesting, because an issue can be framed so many different ways. But if an organization has an agenda, they’re not going to give you all the facts—that’s why you really need to read from all sides of an issue and check the facts, because maybe you’re the one who is wrong.
As the fantastic and deeply insightful writer Maria Popova says at her Brain Pickings blog,
“Personal growth means transcending our smaller selves as we reach for a more dimensional, intelligent, and enlightened understanding of the world, and on the other hand, the excruciating growing pains of evolving or completely abandoning our former, more inferior beliefs as we integrate new knowledge and insight into our comprehension of how life works. Aka, try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours.”
Anyway, this last election was incredibly divisive. It literally tore families apart, like at no other time in electoral history. I read a story the other day all about real-life examples of this, about relationships ending and grown kids not talking to their parents anymore—because of politics. I get this, because I’m a liberal in a family of conservatives, but I’m working hard against it.
I’ve also been studying how to argue, and I came across this brilliant method (again at Brain Pickings) from 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal, who suggests that before disagreeing with someone, first point out the ways in which they’re right. I actually tried this with my brother recently and it didn’t work, but we were just texting. I’ll bet it’s more effective in person.
The method also describes persuasion not as a factor of control but as something predicated on empathy—on insight into the context and concerns of the other person’s mind.
I think we need more of this approach from everyone. Because as 538 says,
"Republicans and Democrats have never particularly liked each other, but survey data going back to the 1970s show that on average, their mutual dislike used to be surprisingly mild. Negative feelings have grown steadily stronger, however, particularly since the early 2000s. Political scientists call this process “affective partisan polarization,” and it is a very serious problem for any democracy."
In my opinion, we all need to believe a little less in what we believe and explore a little more about what we don’t, and try not to feel like we need to “win” an argument or be on the winning team. It’s not a competition to see that democracy continues, because if one side loses that game, all sides lose.
Today I donated to Brain Pickings.