The way that we present ourselves and communicate ideas is incredibly powerful. It is indicative of our character and influences our relationships on a daily basis. Healthy arguments and conversations can be learning and growing experiences, better developing our view of the world and greatly informing our perspective on political and social issues. However, rhetorical, communicative practices are increasingly turning from opportunities for better self-understanding to personal attacks and character-judgements. Instead of entering conversations for the purpose of bettering ourselves, we enter them to categorize and change others. This alteration in purpose, I think, is indicative of the lost art of respectful conversations.
Whether the topic is politics, religion, social issues, or personal life choices, our motivations for entering a discussion will likely determine two things: the tone of the conversation and its ultimate outcome. Have you ever had a conversation with someone on a controversial topic whose mind was already made up? Think back to that instance. What was the tone of the conversation like? When you disagreed or offered an alternative understanding on the issue, did you feel like your voice was being heard and considered? Probably not. Why? Because the motivation of the conversation was not to create mutual understanding and cultivate personal growth. The purpose was to argue a conclusive point or convince you of something you disagreed with; this motivation for entering a conversation fundamentally values others based on their opinions and disrespects others' differing experiences and points of view. Its goal is to change, rather than to be changed, and fosters tense, argumentative atmospheres instead of mutually beneficial, safe spaces to exchange ideas.
Now you may respond to this by thinking "but what if my opinion really is the right one?" Let me respond by asking this: When was the last time someone forcibly argued you into changing your perspective? The way we converse with others is indicative of our character and communicates whether or not we value others at a personal and professional level; using an argumentative tone and method shuts down, rather than enlightens, communication and understanding of an issue. If your sole goal is to convince someone else that they are wrong, you are also missing out on a much larger opportunity for productive, personal growth!
Because of the way that social media and news sources present issues, it seems as though everyone has an opinion on every issue and this can pressure us into feeling like we also have to be opinionated and feel a false sense of being "informed." However, this actually shuts down our ability to truly learn! If you think you have the world figured out, you need another look. If you think that there are "easy" solutions to the political and social issues in the United States or the world, you haven't truly listened to the complexity of the debates. Stubborn opinions prevent us from being flexible in a dynamic world and inherently lead to bias, arrogance, and a lack of communication skills. Instead of feeling like you need to have an opinion on every issue, try being open-minded---it will relieve you from the pressure of solving the world's problems, and open your mind and heart to truly communicate with people different from yourself.
Let's bring back the art of respectful conversations. Let's bring back mutual understanding, growth, and opportunities for self-betterment.
Are you in?
try these 5 tips the next time you converse with someone whose
experiences, background, and worldview has led them to a different
understanding than your own:
1. Check Yourself.
What's your goal in entering this conversation? Is it to learn
something or convince someone else of something you think you
2. Actively Listen.
Active listening is a basic communication skill. When someone expresses
themselves, respond with understanding. Seek to know more about their
perspective instead of inserting your own voice.
3. Ask Questions.
Rather than always feeling the need to explain your own opinion, try
asking questions about theirs instead. Maybe they have reasons that
you've never considered before.
4. Be Open.
Be open to different ideas than your own. Know that opinions do not
determine worth, and that the issues our country and world face are
incredibly complex. Sometimes the best conversations are ones in which
you do not even express your own opinion.
5. Express Yourself Respectfully.
Having a respectful conversation does not mean that you aren't allowed to express your thoughts at all. Expressing yourself is a great opportunity to think through your own reasons for your beliefs! However, this does not mean that you feel the need to leave the conversation having "won," or that your passion about the topic results in disrespecting the other person. Express yourself understanding that it's okay to disagree and knowing that a successful conversation always breeds mutual understanding rather than frustration or anger.
Changing our culture begins by shifting the tone of our conversations. So go out there and have productive, respectful conversations!