TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING YOU BELIEVE IN A VENUE OF PEOPLE WHO DISAGREE
I purposely surround myself with people who disagree with me. It's fun to debate (at least for me). Believe it or not, people can have genuine friendships even if their worldviews differ significantly! Here are my go-to strategies for making friends everywhere from Tumblr to a Trump rally.
- •Avoid inflammatory language.We really love extreme terms in the post-clickbait era. Don't be like those websites that just seek hits on their hot takes. If you're describing an opposing viewpoint as evil, idiotic, or cowardly, you're shutting down any potentially great conversation with emotionally fueled terms. Leave it to logic and reason to work out differences, and treat feelings as just another bullet point. Same goes for negative/finite connotations, like with these internet favorites: spewing, modicum, plague, etc.
- •Come from a place of curiosity.Anyone who's worked in a service industry knows that curiosity is the key to bridging the positive/negative gap in an interaction. What is it that the person is really saying? Imagine, just for a moment, that they're correct. Coming from a place of interest is a much more valuable perspective than entering into a battle with your defenses up.
- •Understand how fully comprehending an opposing viewpoint can in fact strengthen your own.It's the age-old idea that in order to debate your side, you should be able to debate the other side too. Not to mention, if you know what they're thinking, point by point, you're prepared for any questions. I learned this when teaching Kindergarteners about Jesus, and it came in handy when I had a teacher who made me debate exclusively for things I staunchly disagreed with or against two people. It also fostered my interest in academic theology. Know what they're going to say and why.
- •Accusatory phrasing builds walls.There's some disagreement on what actually constitutes accusatory phrasing, but I like to think it can be as seemingly harmless as saying "you." Even if what you're saying is true about the other person, the normal response is to get defensive. In a discussion that could turn heated, emotion is the enemy. Keep things out in the ether with passive phrasing: "it was said that…" or "what I heard was…" are great starters if you're getting lost in the back-and-forth.
- •Education is the cure for ignorance. Unsolicited education is just pretension.It's so wonderful that people see inflammatory or ignorant remarks as just an education gap! However, it's helpful to keep in mind exactly what that education should look like for the individual. If your friend is explaining an easily fixable problem, you're probably not going to present the solution if he's crying on the floor. Give it some time. Await correct circumstances. Value the trust they have in you to share what they believe, whatever that may look like. Be slow to counter.
- •Wash feet.Bear with me even if you think the Bible's a load of garbage: think about the concept of Jesus (if not the Messiah, a historically relevant mentally ill person with a God complex for my purposes) getting down on the floor and washing feet. This was a servant's job, and this guy, literally God, took it upon himself to do it. If you can really humble yourself for the sake of someone else, you'll be surprised what you can find. Nothing like physically engaging in service for an opponent.
- •Seek to humanize through empathy.This can be really hard; I know. At least attempt to think about this person's life and influences as a whole. When I really struggle with this, I really, really break it down. Super weird, but it works for me: I think of them when they're most vulnerable. Sleeping, quietly breathing, putting on layers on a cold day—anything distinctly human. We all have the same basic needs. I often find that disagreements stem from a belief resulting from a vulnerability (need for belonging, insecurity, etc).
- •Balance humor with sensitivity."Sarcasm" comes from the Greek "sarkazien," which means "tear flesh." In other words, a sick burn might be fun, but it's sure to end a conversation—it often doesn't even land since it requires some kind of perspective agreement in the first place. The best and even the darkest humor is a tool to reveal truth. Use it wisely.
- •Get them to do the talking.Why do I care if my hilarious joke ends a conversation with someone I view as ideologically idiotic? Have you ever talked to a friend about a seemingly huge problem, only to realize the words coming out of your mouth were ridiculous and all your stress was for naught? The best way to change a mind is to say nothing.
- •Know when to end the conversation/stop engaging.…and do it amicably. Stuff is complicated. Relationships are more important. Just because you've stopped talking, doesn't mean they've stopped thinking. Let it settle.