2018-02-01 / Letters

Listening would make a difference in U.S. politics

To the editor:

I’m frustrated by American politics being split into factions that just scream at each other. So I reviewed what I’ve learned over the years about negotiation and conflict resolution to try and extract a few simple guidelines for myself for making political conversations less acrimonious. Here’s what I came up with.

Don’t use caricature. Republicans are heartless, racist and xenophobic ….liberals hate America, coddle criminals, etc. It’s not helpful to collapse all political thought into two starkly contrasting and crudely simplistic ideologies. A minority of Americans inhabit the fringes; the majority are reasonable people who share more values and goals than our current state of polarization would seem to indicate.

Don’t speak in absolutes: all politicians are crooked, all poor people are lazy, all rich people are unscrupulous, or whatever. Life isn’t that simple. Respect complexity.

Get the facts straight. Don’t get all your input from people you already know you agree with, and don’t believe something just because it fits with your existing biases. Dig for the truth. If you’re especially interested in a particular issue, read up on it. At the least you’ll be able to argue your point more persuasively, plus you’ll gain insight into why some people disagree. You might even end up changing your own mind on the subject, instead of someone else’s.

Listen without interrupting, look for areas of agreement, and admit when the other person has a valid point. Let go of the need to always be right. Make your case without pulling your punches, but minimize the snark. Cathartic rants feel good, but aren’t persuasive and don’t invite thoughtful responses.

Maybe if we all just dial it back a bit, deal in verifiable facts, and look for common ground we could stop shouting past each other and have a useful discussion.

Tom Gutowski
Lakeview Rd., Elmwood Township

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