Last time, we were having a dialogue with the fictional “Uncle Steve” who represents anyone we disagree with on an important issue. Uncle Steve was monopolizing the conversation with his point of view. He agreed to a discussion and we asked him questions and LISTENED to him explain his ideas and reasoning.
Before we leave Uncle Steve and you get to talk, I want you to do one thing: imagine Uncle Steve with your point of view and you with his. Why? Because we’ve all been Uncle Steve in real life. Next time you’re presenting your point of view, remember, others may not agree, but feel uncomfortable about saying so. Be sure you ask them for their opinions and listen with respect.
Okay, it’s your turn at last. Start by telling Uncle Steve that you understand better where he’s coming from. Because you listened, you’ll be able to identify some common ground, even if it’s pretty general, such as “we both think this is an important issue” or “we both want what’s best for our country, church, family etc. If you agree about some aspects of the issue, say so.
Now comes explaining why you don’t agree:
- Tell a story. You can use your experience or someone else’s. Explain how what happened illuminated the issue for you. For example: “Because I grew up in rural Idaho, I didn’t know many African Americans. Then when I went to college………and so on.
- Use facts. Use websites, articles and other sources to back up your argument, or cite experts. Be sure to use sources that your listener will find convincing if you can. Don’t use Fox News or Democracy Now! If you’re discussing something with someone who’s not on that page. In fact, the drier and more imposing your source the better. “I looked over the most recent census data and found out…..” for example.
- Don’t divide people into vague identities. Don’t talk about educated people, rednecks, yuppies, hippies, hillbillies, coastal elites and so on, as if they are some monolithic group that gets together and comes up with ideas they then espouse. Recognize that these groups contain people with different ideas and you can belong to more than one of them. You can identify people demographically without making this assumption, as in “a recent poll shows that most Los Alamos voters support (fill in the blank) not “people on the Hill think…….” I’ll talk about more identity and identity politics in a future column.
So Uncle Steve is listening politely to all this—yeah, you wish. In all probability, he’s pushing back from the get-go. Next time, we’ll discuss various kinds of pushback and how to deal with them.