Four Meaningful Ways to Discuss Controversial Topics

Photo by Jill Devries

Photo by Jill Devries

Because this keeps coming up:

+ Ask Questions. The more controversial the topic, the more questions you should be asking. Seriously. Stop talking. Listen. Find out what others think / feel / believe… and then find out why. Plus, questions get more engagement than statements, both in person and on social media. 

+ Know the issue has always been, and forever more will be far more complex than you know. That’s it. Before you post passionately on Facebook about a topic (ANY TOPIC, especially political) include the caveat that you acknowledge the issue to be broader that you realize, with details you will never grasp. This prevents you from looking like an asshole. Even if you know yourself to be an expert in a particular field, even if you are SURE about something that is ABSOLUTE… the fact is you are not. This is not about being relativistic… this is about humility. You are denying the existence of truth in your opponent’s argument, and your pride looks poor on you. Actually, this is a traditional tactic in debate… find the weakness in your own argument, and openly acknowledge it without apology or reservation. Find truth in the converse of your belief.

+ Give up the “Right” to be right. This is about humility again. Winning a facebook (or in-person) argument gets you nothing. In fact, it does the opposite of making you look like a good or sane person. By accepting defeat… by letting others be correct… and by assuming them to be so before they even speak- you honor them, and honor yourself. Pride can be more dehumanizing than racism… and far more complicated to dismantle. Humility is the only thing that can confront the great evils of our world… because at its root, it is the only habitat in which evil cannot thrive. 

+ Affirm, Affirm, Affirm. in Facebook discussions I distribute smiley-faces and hearts like a highly caffeinated kindergarten teacher. My plan: anything I remotely agree with… even the smallest glimmer of light in the most verbose and offensive diatribe gets affirmation. If we are going to be in the bridge-building business we have to build everyone up. Humility is difficult to muster if one feels attacked. Build a dialogue of respect by actually respecting everyone. Every view, regardless of its content (or the amount of accuracy contained therein) represents a worldview, and a living, breathing person. I also like to assume that hatred and anger are born out of pain… this allows me the chance to lend my most generous ear to a troublesome combatant. 

Do I have to say “be nice”? Should I add that one should also be well-read? Those help too. Do you have other ideas that help you discuss controversial topics in meaningful ways? I would love to hear them! (see what I did there?) 

Jonathan Randall Grant

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