From the Jackson Hole News & Guide Column Sound Mind
As election issues heat up it feels like the environment is becoming more and more divisive and negative. I don’t know about you, but on some issues I find myself with almost an instant reaction.
Differing views in politics and values are a healthy and necessary part of progress. So what is it that has shifted the process from making an argument to allowing anger and fear to drive us to a negative stance rather than respectfully disagreeing? How can we get back to a place of constructive conversations and civility?
One theory is that this may be a consequence of social media, where the discussion among people who are passionate about issues can easily become a character debate with no real face-to-face accountability. That could be part of the problem. I also think it may be related to reverting to a negative stance that comes from a purely emotional, reactive and defensive state. Once you spend more time in that state it becomes more of a habit.
I’ve seen this in counseling when a couple get into a habit of arguing about character flaws using words like “always” or “never” rather than discussing the facts. Once emotions are brought in, people may begin to become defensive and resort to making the argument personal rather than about the actual issues.
Once you are stuck in this routine it become more difficult to respectfully disagree as well as see the other side. That can be detrimental to our overall mental health, keeping us in a negative and stressful place.
Here are some suggestions that may work well as reminders to us all to argue fairly. They are helpful when debating contested topics in the news and especially on social media.
Avoid defensiveness: Our natural reaction to conflict can be to become defensive, a response to being challenged. That is not helpful to productively working through conflict. Try to enter a debate mindfully, without preconceived ideas, which may allow you to state your opinion in a more thoughtful and balanced way.
Research: Explore the facts of the issue from a reliable source. Look to more than one source rather than relying on a source that may have been constructed from bias. Avoid looking only at sources that are extreme, unreliable or one-sided. The idea is to understand both sides, allowing you to better form your opinion.
A well-researched argument is much more difficult to refute and will at least allow for open discussion on the merits of the issue and not the emotion. Ask questions to open an honest dialogue, and check the validity of your argument.
Make your case: When you respond or state your case remember that not everyone thinks the same as you. When approached with disagreement, listen to the argument with intent to understand. Fall back on your your research instead of emotions to strengthen your own argument.
Avoid allowing any disagreement to turn to anger, hate or name calling. Not only is it unproductive but will distract from this issue and weaken your argument. If the person on the other side resorts to inappropriate responses, do not engage in like behavior. If necessary, walk away. When your opponent is set on engaging only with reactive emotions or with bias, they will not be able to debate, only argue.
Remember, conflict, debates and discussions are a healthy part of change and progress. It is not the conflict itself that’s the problem, but the ways in which we choose to engage in the conversation.
We’ve all been guilty of being reactive, especially lately when tensions are high. It’s important to remember we’re all human, and agree to move toward respectful disagreements, civility in the process. In fact, these are good reminders not only in political debates but other disagreements you may find yourself in.