How To Talk To People Across The Political Divide

By Naima Sakande

Divided. Not broken.

Photo credit: flickr / Dean Hochman
Honestly, it feels impossible. The typical political animosity we experience after a rough election feels, right now, less like a fissure and more like an abyss. And yet. We have to learn how to talk to each other, and truly hear each other, in order to move forward. Here are Naima Sakande‘s hard-won tips on how to listen radically.  For her story of how she navigated the devastating Brexit vote, read her essay The Day The World Changed. We can all learn.

1. Jailbreak Your Social Media

Don’t idly threaten to block or delete people on Facebook or Twitter. Removing differing opinions from your feeds does not remove them from the world. Be willing to hear things you don’t agree with.

Since so many of us get our news from Facebook, here are some suggestions on beating the algorithm bubble on your Facebook feed:

Reconnect. Click the top right hand corner of your page and select “News Feed Preferences.” Consider hitting “Reconnect with people you’ve unfollowed.” I thought I had managed to avoid blocking people, but to my surprise I found someone in there, who I had unfollowed more than a year ago because I disagreed with their political stance. Bring those voices back onto your page.

Prioritize. Consider hitting “prioritize who to see first” and selecting a few friends who you know to have differing opinions from you. By prioritizing a couple of them, you will help to balance the voices on your feed.

Of course, disagreement is different to disrespect or abuse. Block and report the haters to Facebook and Twitter.

2. Diversify Your Media Sources

For every three articles you read that you agree with, try to read one that you don’t. Consuming media you find difficult or challenging will allow you to engage with opinions that counter yours. Here’s a few ways to do so:

On Twitter, search for the handle of someone you disagree with but who you can respect. Most major newspapers, from left-leaning New York Times to right-leaning Wall Street Journal will have a journalist dedicated to covering the other side of the political spectrum. Find them, and follow them.

Use clean browsers. The next time you want to find out more about a news story, don’t search on your apps. Enter neutral search terms into a web browser to find articles. Log out of your gmail account before doing this, to help to reduce the amount of tailoring Google is able to do to the search results. Alternatively, hit the world button in the top right hand corner to see general and not personalized results. Failing this, search for your topic in an incognito browser or use a VPN to search for hits.

3. Create A Space For Discussion

It can be incredibly tough and deeply emotional to listen to opinions we disagree with. It is a real skill that takes time to hone. But it is important to create safe spaces for dissonance and dispute. Remember: The youth leader of white nationalism left the movement because of friendly Shabbat dinners.

Consider setting up a monthly discussion group, either in person or online, and set specific topics. Invite people who represent a wide range of views. Email people whose blogs you have read, whose articles you have disagreed with or whose Facebook posts have frustrated you. Set ground rules for your discussion, such as, one person can speak at a time. All voices will be respected. Challenge the statement and not the person.

Here is one framework I love:

Receive. Hear the information or opinion being given to you. Face the speaker and give them your undivided attention. Monitor your body language. Try not to react in an overt or alarmed way. Don’t let your jaw drop, your fists ball, your fingers point. Listen carefully to what is being said without interrupting.

Reflect. Reassure the person speaking that you have fully understood what they have told you by reflecting some of their statement back to them. Confirm that you have understood correctly

Respond. Formulate your thoughts carefully and respond honestly to what has been said. If you are hurt or offended, express this, but explain why. Make sure all your opinions are based on reason and avoid making statements you cannot verify.

Don’t be afraid to share or be vulnerable. Our opinions are formed from our experiences. Share yours with others and use them to explain your convictions. Speak from your own life and heart and avoid generalizing on behalf of anyone else.

4. Ask Uncomfortable Questions

Do not let thoughts or opinions that make you angry or afraid pass you by. Confront those opinions in a compassionate way. Try using statements like:

“Interesting – I feel quite differently on that topic. Can I ask you a few more questions about why you feel that way?”

“I appreciate that we may come at this from different perspectives. Can I tell you a little more about why I find that opinion difficult?”

5. Get Organized

Sometimes engaging in interpersonal dialogue doesn’t feel like enough. Use your voice to speak out about the issues you care about in a peaceful and active way.

Vote! In every election! Downticket as well – every decision you are able to weigh in on matters. Don’t waste the platforms you are given to be heard.

Join. Especially join groups and organizations with agendas you support and help them to figure out a method of appealing to people unlike them. Have open meetings and try to include non-members as much as possible. It will foster mutual respect and communication within your community.

More than anything, stay true to yourself. We have a tough road ahead of us to heal the divides that politicians have been carving into our communities. Let’s use these elections as wake up calls and opportunities to listen and heal. It’s just the beginning.

How do you plan to reach across the divide? Do you? Tell us. You might also like:  7 Tips For Turning Anger Into Hope  12 Tips For Being Less Racist  What Do A Buddhist, Episcopalian, Sikh And Jew Have In Common?

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