Winning With Constructive Dialogue


Sometimes the universe throws coincidences in our paths. I have been reorganizing the blog and refocusing on finding more constructive ways of approaching the issues that divide us. Then this past week, almost as if by design, I encountered two interesting sources (for which I will provide links) that show how we can defuse an angry, fruitless debate, and even transform a dispute into a learning situation. It’s what we sorely need, at this time when the United States is more divided than I have ever seen it.

It is helpful for me to evaluate our political situation from different points of view. I was trying to come up with an article about our president, but I couldn’t do it without using unsavory language. Probably not the most constructive path. I am going to focus more on what we have in common, what we can work together on, and less on the details that set us at odds.

My goal is not to win arguments, but to find out how to best describe what is really going on. Those who take extreme positions generally think they are the only ones who know the truth. In my experience the extremists are seldom right, but neither does the truth lie midway between opposing extremes. You won’t discover the facts through a debate; you need to take into account all the available information and assess it with as little bias as possible.

The Earth Example

Take the climate change discussion for example, an issue that has become needlessly political. On the one hand, let’s say the right one, you have the “deniers,” who claim that global warming is not a real issue, that it was invented or exaggerated to encourage the creation of massive government intervention. On the left hand are the “alarmists,” who insist that global warming will soon make the Earth uninhabitable, and corporations are hiding what they know for the sake of profits. There are some bits of truth on each side, but neither position is accurate. Since neither side fairly represents reality, we are unlikely to get to a satisfactory resolution by splitting the difference.

The righties have a point that some of the lefties exaggerate or otherwise misrepresent what the data on climate change show. The lefties are right to say that at least some corporations have concealed relevant information. Those facts don’t get us much closer to the truth. You have to look at the actual data, and interpret it correctly, and that’s where it gets complicated. Few of us have the scientific expertise to do that interpretation ourselves, so we have to rely on expert opinion. The problem is that the righties assume most climate scientists have ulterior motives to make climate change look worse than it is, and the lefties assume that anyone who downplays the seriousness of climate change is paid off by fossil fuel corporations.

It is not an insurmountable problem. It really is possible, with some googling, to figure out which sources are presenting reasonable arguments and who is being funded by whom. I don’t consider myself an alarmist by any means, but I do have more sympathy for the lefty position. After all, if there is even a small chance we will bring life on
Earth to an end, we should treat that very seriously. But that means I know which direction I am likely to be biased. For that reason, I have to take seriously any reasonable-sounding skeptic argument to avoid rejecting it simply because it goes against my preconceptions. I do that; I have gone down many a rabbit hole, following the arguments of a climate science skeptic who claims to have evidence that will throw all the scientific projections out the window, only to find out they were using cherry-picked data, or just fudging the results. Yet I keep looking. I don’t want to be caught with my pants down when some rebel scientist overturns the current understanding of climate science.

Really Winning

Few issues are black and white, but most of the time we can come to an understanding of what is going on. Most of the time we can come to at least a partial agreement on the serious issues that we wrestle with. We have to. The issues are too important to be decided by shouting matches and political ads. Gun control, climate change, the oppression of women and minorities, how to deal with terrorism, how big do we want government to be; these things aren’t going to take care of themselves, and we can’t let action on them be decided by the loudest voices. We need to be adults, and calmly, rationally take control.

I am just one voice. I am not the smartest person in the world. Feel free to correct me when I am obviously wrong, as I suspect I will be from time to time. Here are those links I promised, two organizations that seem to be on the right track:

Better Angels

Living Room Conversations

Title image credit: Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama BFF’s by barfusstanzen

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