The other night, during dinner with a friend, David Alpern, we discussed my last blog: Scorn in America, when he made an interesting observation. There had been a march in downtown Long Beach, California, where we both reside, with the goal of prompting the end of gun violence. A woman at the march held up a sign saying the following: How could any one (sic) be proud to live in a country that protects its guns over its citizens?
In a follow up letter to the editor to a local newspaper, David pointed out that this type of message will further alienate those that don’t think like us rather than attempting to bring these people to our way of reckoning things. Granted it, this message was held by only one of the marchers in the rally, but I think it reflects the partisan climate that we all find ourselves in today. The message implies that if you don’t agree with me on a much-debated subject, the right to own firearms, you can’t feel proud of what America represents. This brings to mind the statement Hillary Clinton made in 2016 during her campaign against Donald Trump when she referred to the “deplorables” that don’t think like us. What Mrs. Clinton appeared to have forgotten was that the deplorables she spoke of consisted of approximately half of the country.
If our goal is to change the present status of gun laws, then as Alpern mentions, our messages need to recruit not repel those that hold opposing views. I have suggested to couples having difficulty seeing their partner’s differing perspectives on an issue that they employ the disarming technique. When one of the partners is criticizing the other, rather than become defensive and go in the attack mode, I ask them to find some truth in the criticism. This often has the effect of disarming or neutralizing the one doing the criticizing. Underlying this method of communication is the fact that the person finding fault with you needs to be listened to rather than counter attacked. It very often leads to more sane and rational communication between the two partners.
So, when discussing a point, and this especially holds true with our leaders in Washington D.C., we might look for either the strength or weakness in our position and go from there. Now if it’s a question of something you absolutely think is wrong like the elections being rigged, as Trump and some of his followers do, then this technique probably will not be useful. But most situations are not black and white where one person is perfectly right and the other is perfectly wrong. That is to say the “truth” for one person may not be a factual truth but rather a strongly held viewpoint.
The pandemic and social media have rendered any kind of civil discourse difficult. The anonymity intrinsic in much of social media allows people to hide and not face those whose opinions differ from them. The pandemic has kept us isolated from others and has perhaps increased the amount of time people spent on the internet. This has resulted in an inordinate amount of confirmation bias, that is, reading only what reinforces one’s opinion. Hopefully, if the worst of the pandemic is over, people will have the chance to interact with others in a more humane way than previously. More face-to-face meetings with coworkers and others that think differently may at least transform the hostility we feel toward each other, stemming from labeling the other “bad,” into a less combative more useful conversation. The aim in mind will be to expand our perspectives on controversial subjects rather than limit them.