Use Your Words: The value of honest dialogue

It may have always been this way, but if you have a politically-geared debate these days it seems there is an expectation to join one side or the other. Like joining the military in the midst of a war, your side expects you to fall in line with each of their major beliefs and forgive their indiscretions, all in the name of winning the “war.”

But all we really do is talk. Thankfully, we’re not mired in the middle of another Civil War (though it seems like many Americans would happily take us there), and until that happens we have to use our words to resolve issues. It’s not as easy as “Well I did my research and then tried to convince them, they just won’t listen,” followed by giving up immediately. The fact of the matter is that in order to change someone’s mind, you first have to change their entire outlook on the subject — after all, who is so wishy-washy that they change their world beliefs in the duration of a single conversation? Yes, that could take a very long time just to change the heart of one person — but if you just want an easy fix to the division in our country, you’d be better off not trying to fix anything at all.

All of this boils down to dialogue. It boils down to listening as much as you talk, or even moreso, and taking opposing arguments seriously, as if there may be merit to their arguments even if there’s not. You might be surprised how people react if you stop and listen and really try and understand not only their argument’s bullet points, but also their entire perspective — why they believe what they believe. Everyone has taken a reasonable path to get where they are today, even if that destination is the wrong one. “They’re just lazy,” or “they’re just hateful,” are easy answers. We all yearn for easy answers, but anyone with much experience knows that easy answers are rarely the accurate ones.

For those of you who are already trying this: “He just can’t take a side” or “she just doesn’t have a stance,” is a pretty typical response to someone who wants to start dialogue and hear everyone out before moving forward. According to many, if you’re not grabbing a pitchfork then you must not have anything to stand for. As if waving pitchforks and yelling on the internet equated to “doing something.”

Not all sides are equal. Sometimes people have bad arguments: for a long, long time, one of the major arguments throughout human history was whether or not God had ordained the leader of a country. People argued over what was called the “divine right of kings,” and most folks in the 21st century — religious or not — can now agree that one side was definitively wrong and the other right. Kings and queens are just human beings like the rest of us.

But if you peruse through history, these arguments quickly devolved into violence over and over and over again because people were not willing to hear each other out. We have successfully created a space, one of the precious few in the world, where we can work things out with our words. Without shedding the blood of American family members and having our own family members’ blood shed. And what do we do with this freedom? We yell and we scream and we divide and dehumanize one another; we teach our children that words can’t work. And the debates we’re having are very serious — illegal immigration, abortion, healthcare — they have to be tackled appropriately. If we can’t use our words effectively, then what other means do we have to solve these serious issues? Well, if history tells us anything, it’s that violence will likely come next.

In my experience, violence seems like an unlikely outcome all the way up until it happens, and then it’s too late. And that is a scary thought.

If you’re thinking, I would use my words if they would just stop and listen, then it appears you are having trouble taking personal responsibility for the situation. As a writer, if I am unable to communicate my thoughts effectively, that’s not the fault of the reader — it’s my fault. I have to do better. I believe we all have to do a bit better.

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Susan B
2 years ago

You are so right, Luke. It gets very frustrating when you want to “check things out” before you commit to someone else’s opinion. They want to hurry you up to get to their side, or they want to do the deciding for you, or even try to guilt you or shame you into agreeing. I see it on my own Facebook wall and those of my friends. I once passed right by the most egregious memes or posted articles that give talking points of their chosen positions or call for denouncement of their oppositions viewpoints. Now…even if I agree with… Read more »

Joni Smith
Joni Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Susan B

Susan B, that’s good to challenge both things you might agree with and ones you don’t. I have done that a few times knowing something someone posted didn’t have a full ring of truth to it because of prior research I had done. Sometimes I respond, sometimes i just move on because it seems like a worthless effort with some. I know I shouldn’t because it does open the conversation but it’s really hard to have an honest conversation on social media. It’s possible, but it can be really frustrating.

2 years ago

Takes work, hard effort, time in the saddle digging up information. I agree with all you say Luke, but sometimes folks that you are trying to reach, don’t want to put in the work. You can lead a horse to water, as they say. However, you are right, we could all do a little bit better, great viewpoint, and write up.

Joni Smith
Joni Smith
2 years ago

No one knows how to listen anymore because we don’t have to. We post online and it doesn’t matter if we “heard” what the other person said or not. Though that can be true in person as well. Nothing makes you feel more validated as a person when the one you are talking to rolls their eyes while you are speaking. NOT! Body Language is a huge indicator of how people are listening. You can witness this on main stream media on a daily basis when a host brings on someone with a differing opinion. You can watch how the… Read more »

2 years ago

Amen Brother Luke……hard to hear anything when you are yelling…..

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