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It Can Be Done: Civil Conversations with People on the Other Side of the Political Spectrum



Ad hominem attacks are never the answer.


I know that. You know that. Yet, it feels like 99% of conversations with someone on the other side of the political aisle ends in an ad hominem attack (case in point, one of the last comments the Resident Skeptics team got on Instagram was "y'all are nasty").


In fact, some of the most memorable political commentary involves not two like-minded individuals, but two individuals with opposing opinions civilly discussing a topic they disagree on.


Consider conservative mastermind Ben Shapiro’s conversation with classic liberal Bill Maher on the Daily Wire. Or, more recently, Babylon Bee’s CEO Seth Dillon spent several hours talking with Joe Rogan about a variety of topics – including abortion, which the two vastly differed on.


Rogan concluded the conversation by saying, “I see what you’re saying, man. And this is why people need to have conversations. See what we did? We had a peaceful disagreement. That can’t be done anymore.”


“Yeah we did,” Dillon responded, and the two gentlemen clinked glasses before continuing the conversation on the importance of debate.


So, this begs the question – how can we enable more productive conversations like the ones referenced above? More importantly, what makes a productive conversation with someone who holds opposing political views? How can we encourage a spirit of healthy conversation and debate, regardless of where you stand politically, in our city?


In order to get to the bottom of it, I did the only thing I thought made sense – research. I cashed in all the lifelines and phoned a friend, asked some of our audience, and topped it all off with a little internet research to see what the “experts” have to say. Here’s the highlights:


You Don’t Have to Talk About Politics


In the conversation between Maher and Shapiro, Maher explains, “All people talk about is politics. There are a million things you can talk about that’s not political, and you find out “oh, this person is not that different from me.”


Before we even get into HOW to talk about politics with someone on the other side, the profound thing to remember is that you don’t have to talk to everyone about politics. In fact, Maher believes that in prioritizing conversations with other people, you learn more about them and find similarities (Spoiler Alert: Ben and Bill both like baseball) that they can bond over.


This point boils down to remembering this person you’re having a disagreement with is a human being, with likes and dislikes, and a life outside of their political opinion. Don’t disregard a person from your life because of political beliefs, and instead of immediately putting your guard up, find your common ground. Is it a sport? A state y’all both experienced? A love of coffee? (ok, that’s me. We can ALWAYS find common ground over a cup of coffee). Then, start there. Get to know each other and enjoy each other’s company. When politics do get into the picture, hopefully you’ve established enough trust that the walls stay down and y’all can proceed with a civil conversation.


Choose Your Battlefield Wisely

In 2022, there are quite a few more platforms to get into arguments than previous years. Between social media, virtual events across the nation (or globe!), and of course, local in-person interactions in your everyday life, provide more than enough opportunities to meet someone you disagree with.


Former Charlotte-Mecklenberg police officer and current owner of Allred Tactical, Gil Allred explained, “I personally don’t answer anyone on social media. Speaking out on social media is like talking to a wall. I prefer to meet an opposing view face to face and alone. If we encounter several people together, then the chance of being ridiculed is higher. But if we can have a face-to-face, alone then the person doesn't have outside pressures to resist thinking on their own. The theory is united we stand & divided we fall; or better, "a cord of three strands is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)


Resident Skeptics couldn’t agree with Gil more. In fact, in Episode #37, co-host Jordan explained part of the rationale behind a podcast vs other means of communication IS that it provides a platform for productive discussion where the involved people can see each other’s emotion and hear each other’s tone.


Keep Your Assumptions at Bay


Especially in this day and age, people throw around labels like hotcakes and sometimes don’t know what it means. Maybe someone calls themselves a liberal and instead of assuming y’all can’t get along, you have a conversation, and further debate and discussion reveals that they are more libertarian than even they realized.


Assumptions can be detrimental to a conversation because it puts an expectation on the opposite person than you think is right but may not line up with reality. Even people who share the same political party may have differing opinions.


Don’t assume because they’re wearing a BLM shirt that they’re Pro-Choice.

Don’t assume because they’re Conversative they think Trump is the Lord and Savior of the United States.


Acknowledge it may be likely (stereotypes tend to stem from truths) but keep your mind open until you can confirm it through productive conversation.


Define Your Terms First


This one is straightforward and derived from having heard many political speakers over the last several months – Define. Your. Terms. And do it at the beginning of the debate.


Do we have the same definition of the words we’re throwing around? With buzzwords saturating the mainstream media, do y’all have different understandings of the same word? And, if so, what if you don’t know it and that skews your debate. In fact, what if you actually agree once you define the term? If you’re talking about two different things, but think you’re talking about the same thing, it won’t end up being a productive conversation.


Well, there you have it. A small selection of insights on how to have an engaging conversation with someone on the other side. Is it comprehensive? Of course not. Think I’m missing something?


Let me know at residentskeptics@gmail.com and maybe there will be a part two of this article...


The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of Resident Skeptics.

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