Not long ago Senator Sanders encouraged supporters to move out beyond their comfort zone and talk about the difficult issues with people who hold different world-views. How can we do this considering how often we are in inappropriate settings to have a political debate and the fact that we tend to socialize with like-minded people? Debating co-workers is generally out of the question and when it comes to politics, we definitely know the dinner table rules when it’s time to visit family during holidays. Not to mention, some of us (even though passionate about our beliefs) are shy and non-confrontational.
I believe these are a few of the reasons why we tend to gravitate toward the web in order to express our beliefs in comments and posts (the relative anonymity is helpful as well). But it is often a similar situation. The majority of us limit ourselves to news sources and Facebook pages that already promote our beliefs. I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter, and if I weren’t, I probably wouldn’t be posting this article here. I’m using this news source because it aligns with my world-view. This is all good and fine and often necessary for spreading ideas (in this case I’m wanting to reach out to Bernie supporters). What does it really accomplish in changing the attitudes and ideas of those who may disagree with us. Is it productive?
As Bernie Sanders’ supporters, I hope we all share his fair-minded and open approach to people who view the world differently. If you are anything like me, you are probably inspired by his ability to reach out to people who disagree with him (I always admire the way he begins sentences with “I believe”), acknowledge differences gracefully, and move forward to find common ground. I’d like to think this is what many people want, to find the common ground in order to solve problems. Unfortunately it’s probably not true. Do you see much in the way of consensus these days?
I believe, and maybe you agree, that all Political ideas are ethical in nature and can be reduced to a few simple questions. How ought we treat each other? What rights do we have as individuals in a society? What kind of negative rights do we have? Should rights be limited or unrestricted to protect people’s freedom? Sometimes economic issues, that seem on their face to be resolvable mathematically, remain ethical considerations. For example: should we have social minimums? Which brings us to questions like: Are taxes an impediment to our personal freedoms?
These are big subjects and can’t be covered in detail here. I bring it up only to point out that from my view there is no way to prove ethical propositions because we don’t have anything that counts as an ethical fact. Because of this, I believe we naturally fall into the moral polarization that we see today between political factions on important topics. If we had ethical facts in our possession, we wouldn’t have political differences of any kind to speak of.
How do we engage with someone who holds views that seem so foreign to us? Who the hell is right anyway? It’s probably worth remembering here that people often feel that their particular world-view is innate, and for them it clearly couldn’t be otherwise (this often applies to our own views as well), particularly when it comes to moral considerations. Even if you subscribe to the nurture-rather-than- nature approach, as I do, our world-views ironically still feel strongly innate.
If you want to sway people who have strong opposing world-views, what’s the best approach? If we keep two of the main ideas above in mind (that there are no moral facts, and more often than not a person’s experience of ethics are visceral and in turn resistant to sudden change) then we can engage people from a fair-minded position. Below are a couple of ideas on how to engage in a dialogue.
1) Don’t be confrontational. It’s unnecessary, and you are unlikely to get the results you hope for. That said, there isn’t anything wrong with measured pressure. Be genuine. Listen to them and remain fair-minded. We are looking for social progress and this can be a scary thing for some people.
2) Since people’s moral views often feel deep-rooted and innate, they will most likely NOT be open to receiving ANY criticism and may immediately become offended, regardless of how sound you believe your argument to be (remember, you could be equally wrong when it concerns morally ambiguous subjects). Think about beginning your statements with “Have you considered?”, “Is it possible that?”, “Have you had to opportunity to read?”, “I believe this to be the case because”. These are just a few non-confrontational ways to begin a dialogue with someone, that are better than saying they are flat out wrong about the beliefs they may have held their entire lives. Give them the opportunity to consider your ideas by framing your thoughts carefully in this way.
3) If possible, show how you have allowed for change from past criticism. Acknowledge that changing one’s position is very difficult (it often feels like self betrayal because our moral compass feels very natural). If they stand firm, express respect for this and look for the common ground. Try not to feel like you’ve given in if you happen to agree with them on an issue. In fact, showing someone you are willing to meet them halfway may encourage further steps toward you.
If you want to reach out to the hearts and minds of people who have opposing views, and you are unable to (or unwilling to) have a face to face conversation, start on Facebook or a news source that clearly holds views contrary to yours, and begin chatting with people about the issue you are passionate about. You never know, it may be worth it. Don’t wait for our political representatives to do all the talking for you. I’m sure Sanders would support you.