The best way to make sense of this crazy world we live in is by talking about it; here’s how to make the most of the conversation.
From college campus protests to military bans, this country has faced a lot of derision lately. A lot of the questions and problems we’ve been faced with are tough ones to solve. If politicians and experts of all kinds cannot succinctly explain the issues at hand, how are we supposed to tackle them in dinnertime discussions? When it comes to those controversial topics, sometimes I find it easier to avoid them altogether. I love a good, wholesome debate, but even I find myself hesitant to explain my opinions on something I don’t fully comprehend. And let’s be real; how many of us can actually say we fully grasp 100% of any social or political topic?
However, just because we don’t fully understand something, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to talk about it. It may be awkward to stir the pot and bring up such sensitive topics, but stirring the pot is sometimes the best way to get results. Plus, it doesn’t have to mean offending people or creating drama. Don’t let fear of conflict keep you from continuing the conversation. After all, knowledge is power, and one of the best places to gain knowledge is from each other. Here are some tips on how to maintain constructive dialogue and, ultimately, #staywoke.
1. Be OK with not knowing everything
When it comes to heavy-handed issues like politics or social reform, we all can get a bit defensive about our stances. The first thing to embrace when it comes to having these conversations is your lack of knowledge. There are so many layers and facets to pretty much anything worth talking about; we’re only human and we only know the sides of things we’ve been exposed to. So, enter every discussion with an open mind, because there are bound to be perspectives you’d never consider.
Don’t be the guy that no one can talk to because you can’t admit you don’t know! That being said, don’t make my mistake and let that inevitable illiteracy keep you from saying anything at all. Let the unknown motivate you to know and understand all that you can.
2. Be ready to do some research
A frequent comment I see on social media in reference to contentious issues is if you don’t have direct knowledge or experience with the topic at hand, you can’t have an opinion on it. Sentiments like these create problems because they aim to shut down the conversation. Telling someone they cannot have an opinion on Trump’s barring of transgender military members because they’re not in the military is like telling a history teacher they can’t teach about the Civil Rights movement because they weren’t there to experience it for themselves. I don’t think I need to elaborate on how ridiculous this is¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Of course tackling difficult issues when you don’t know everything about them is intimidating. Instead of letting that hinder you from expressing your views, just do the research! Whether it’s through a simple Google search or talking to someone with more expertise, get informed to have a more expansive viewpoint.
3. Be inclined to LISTEN in order to UNDERSTAND
Yes, I did press that Caps Lock button for this one. It’s one thing to hear what someone is saying, but in order to make the most of any conversation you have to be willing to truly listen. By listening, you’ll not only learn something new from a different perspective, but you’ll be able to structure your own thoughts and arguments more thoroughly.
Political debates are often fruitless because they consist of opinions being thrown back and forth as opposed to real dialogue. Very few things in the political spectrum can ever get concisely addressed, let alone solved, because opposing parties are too concerned with holding true to their platform. There is no happy-medium or gray area- only red and blue areas.
Avoid that dynamic when conversing with people who may not have the same opinions as you. Instead of simply sticking to “your side”, consider all sides. Know that it’s not always about agreeing or proving who’s right, but simply listening and understanding.
4. Be willing to change your mind
The ultimate sign that you’ve participated in a successfully constructive conversation is a shift in your own opinions. One of my closest friends from my freshman year at BU lives for debates. For a while, I was too intimidated to have any serious discussions with him for fear of getting my opinions shut down. I told him this one day and he said something I still find very notable: “I’m a very stubborn person and will argue my side of things as best I can, but if you bring up a good point or prove me wrong I will be the first to admit my arguments aren’t full proof.”
It seems simple enough, but his willingness to reconsider his opinions, no matter how many facts he could recite or how much thought he put into his own theories, enlightens me. We so easily get caught up in what we think and what our point of view is… how often do we really take a second to think and say, “Damn, maybe s/he’s right”? Liberal, conservative, or otherwise, we all have a set of fundamental beliefs that make us who we are. However, being exposed to a different way of thinking shouldn’t threaten or intimidate that foundation, but encourage and challenge us to expand it.
Author and motivational speaker Matthew Kelly stresses the fact that the essential purpose of life is to “become the best version of [ourselves]”, and as the Haitian proverb goes, “only God and imbeciles do not change”. We’re certainly not God and it’s obvious that being an imbecile won’t make us any better, so the only option left is change. Be open to changing your mind and you will be better for it, as will the dialogue you create with people. Maybe then those dinnertime discussions will be a little less difficult.