Discussing with People Who Have Opposing Views
There’s no doubt that the last few weeks have been extraordinary. We have arguably seen the most collective vigor and support ever generated for a movement since the Civil Rights era.
I know many others, like myself, have started diving into books about the history and experiences of Blacks in this country. I know many Blacks (rightfully so) are angry that this response didn’t come sooner.
Until recently, Black people have had the burden of explaining race to their friends and colleagues. It’s time we share that burden with them.
The past few years, I had the privilege of working with many wonderful people. Many of these people did have different views from me. I was wary at first. It was one of the first times I was no longer in an echo chamber. I learned to listen to them, and I learned to be skeptical about my own views.
I also learned how important it was to research your opinion before throwing it out in the open.
Above all, through developing friendships, I learned to respect those with opposing views. There will always be some conversations that are best had with those who share the same beliefs. But there is great value in learning how to have civil discussions with those who don’t.
Sharing knowledge is one of the most valuable impacts you can have on your community. Here are some things I learned to make it easier:
1. Avoid using phrases that generalize any group.
Phrases like “all white people” or “all cops”. Yes, it’s not the point of the argument that not all white people or all cops behave like that, but it is a generalization that will detract from the point you’re trying to make. It’s very tempting and common in our vernacular. It won’t do you any favors during a respectful discussion.
2. Try not to get upset.
Easier said than done, I know. I promise you though it’s a million times easier to have a good conversation if both parties are calm. People are going to think the way they want and you alone are not going to change decades of previous opinions.
But here’s the thing, getting upset turns people away. BIPOC have every right to be upset. This is affecting them DIRECTLY. It’s your job to be able to calmly explain to people about racism without attacking them.
It’s still ok to feel upset. And it’s ok if the person you’re talking to does as well. Being angry is a valid emotion that we need to normalize. However, if the person you’re conversing with starts insulting you and making you uncomfortable, you have every right to step away.
3. Respect the person you’re talking to.
There are some Grade A jerks out there. Don’t bother with them. Then there are some people that truly do want good for everyone, but have a different idea about what the path to good should be. In my opinion, that makes a lot of sense. They probably grew up in a different community and have a different curated social media feed. Overall, their experiences have been cultivated much differently from yours.
Having different political and social views isn’t black and white. It’s tempting to dismiss someone if they don’t agree with you. And you know what? If you want to do that that’s on you. Just know you won’t be changing anyone’s mind anytime soon.
4. Don’t go into a conversation with the goal to dunk on someone.
There is no “winning”. People are going to disagree with this, but I’ve seen a lot of statements that say “Black lives matter. This is not a debate. If you don’t agree then you’re wrong.” That could very well be true. But where is that going to get you? That’s just going to turn people away. I’m sure you don’t like being told you’re wrong. Other people don’t like it either.
I hate to break it to you, but your single voice will not instantaneously change someone’s mind. The only thing you can do is share the knowledge that you have. Which brings me to my next point:
5. Do the work and learn the material.
Knowledge is power. I’ve noticed for me that having the knowledge keeps me calm. If I go into a discussion with an opinion that I can’t back up, I start to get very upset. And then I realize it’s because I don’t have any knowledge to justify my opinion. When you have the words to discuss, it will make the discussion a lot more comfortable for you.
Even though it’s ideal to have core knowledge of the subject, you’re not expected to be a subject matter expert.
6. Remember that you don’t have to know all the answers.
If someone brings up a point that you’re not sure how to respond to, that’s ok. Acknowledge the point, acknowledge that you don’t know, and thank them for bringing it up.
Even though it’s ideal to have a core knowledge of the subject, you’re not expected to be a subject matter expert. It doesn’t mean you “lost” the discussion.
In fact that’s the whole point of the discussion: to learn something new.
Like all things, having discussions takes practice and you may not get it right the first time. Start with your friends, family, and trusted colleagues.
You may be the only person in someone’s life with an opposing view. Now’s the time to speak up. I hope this enthusiasm for the movement continues to empower you. Together, we can generate a community that fosters and supports further education about all topics that affect our country.