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How to Have a Productive Political Discussion

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

In 2003, I wrote this article on my website, Bullies2Buddies.com, because we were in enmeshed in passionate political debates that were tearing us apart regarding waging war in Iraq. The article is even more important now, when political passions have reached all-time highs over the US Presidential elections. Not only are friendships destroyed by differing views, even marriages are being ripped asunder. This is a great unnecessary tragedy.


Therefore I have decided it to reprint it here (with a few minor edits). It will be followed by a 33 minute video in which the principles are demonstrated in unrehearsed, spontaneous, unscripted role-plays.


Photo by Marcello eM from FreeImages

 

It’s often said that if you want someone to remain your friend, don’t discuss politics or religion. It’s good advice. The problem is that when the country is in a critical situation, people naturally discuss politics more often. Like with the situation in Iraq (in 2003). And the current situation with the Presidential contest between incumbent Donald Trump and Senator Joe Biden.


If you observe a political discussion – and this happens even in professional venues like radio and TV programs – you will usually find people with opposing views getting mad at each other, treating each other like mortal enemies, and insulting each other’s intelligence and integrity. And nothing ever gets accomplished. They each try frantically to prove that they are right and the other is wrong, to no avail. Each side ends up committed to the same opinions they began with.


This is a real shame, especially in a country that is founded on free speech, the idea that all citizens are entitled to have and express their political ideas without it turning us into enemies. And it is especially tragic when differing political views destroy the relationship between a married couple.


It is important that people living in a democracy be informed about the functioning of the government so they can develop intelligent opinions. The fact that the citizenry is free to hold a variety of divergent political views enriches and strengthens the country. But it’s detrimental when citizens treat each other like enemies simply because they hold different political views. It makes us all weaker.


I would therefore like to teach you how to have political discussions and still remain good friends. These guidelines are effortless. They merely require changes in attitude.


1. Your partner in discussion is your friend. – Tell yourself that the only reason the other person is telling you his opposing views, regardless how outrageous or antagonistic they may seem, is that he loves you and cares about you. You may think that if the country follows his policies, we will be headed for ruin. From his point of view, if we follow your policies, we will be headed for ruin. He is as entitled to his opinion as you are to yours. Who is to say that you are right and he is wrong? So instead of being mad at him for his views, thank him for caring about you so much.


2. It doesn’t matter who is right. – When we have a political discussion, we may feel like the future of the world depends upon the outcome. That’s why we argue so passionately that it seems we are ready to kill each other.


Face it, we are not so important. The President is not tuned in to oוr conversation. Neither is Congress or the Senate. The government’s actions will not be determined by the person who wins our debate. So relax. Our political arguments serve no purpose other than our own entertainment and enlightenment.


3. See the discussion as an opportunity to learn – The natural thing in a political discussion is to try to prove to the other person that we are right and he is wrong. And the harder we try to convince him, the harder he tries to convince us.


This approach is a mistake. It turns us into enemies. We also end up having added absolutely nothing to our knowledge because we were only concerned with the views we already have.


The right thing to do is to see every discussion as an opportunity to learn from the other person. Tell yourself that all you care about is understanding the way the other person sees the issue. Ask him questions to clarify why he thinks the way he does, and even if you find yourself disagreeing, don’t fall into the trap of trying to show him why he is wrong. He will just try harder to prove he’s right and you’re wrong. Don’t worry – you don’t have to end up agreeing with him if you don’t want to.


If you make it you concern to learn the other person’s point of view, guess what will happen. He will like you better and respect you more. And as an additional bonus, he will start showing genuine interest in your views because you showed genuine interest in his views! He will want to learn from you because you were interested in learning from him.


So the next time you face someone with a different point of view, try this approach. You’ll like it!

 

Couple split between Trump and Biden. The author role-plays with leadership coach, Annie Libertalis


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