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Bridging the Political Divide

Life back home is complicated. People seem so angry and divided. So how then do you bridge the divide with family and friends who don’t see eye to eye with you? Living in Singapore writer MARC SERVOS has a few suggestions. How do you deal talk about political topics with others and keep it civil? Interaction with those who hold other viewpoints can easily go awry, considering the way in which politics back home has been dividing the country. Here are a few tips on how to communicate with others to avoid getting into a heated discussion. Choosing the right words can change the mood of the conversation for the better. This may not work in discussions with strangers on social media, but could be practiced when talking to people you know, especially in person.


1. Different political views are part of a continuum spectrum. Remember, there are gray areas. And different views are usually not 180 degrees opposites.

Political views are often placed on a left-right horizontal spectrum, but truth is, views are generally approached from different angles, rather than from polar opposites. Bear in mind that opinions are not always black or white, as many are in gray areas.

Our views on particular issues, solutions and challenges are not perfect. Pros and cons usually come into play when deciding what view to take on a particular issue and how to handle it, which is where the gray area comes in.

Even within gray areas, most people prefer seeing things as right or wrong. We recognize the imperfections, but there are absolutes as well. Murder is wrong, as an example, but we don’t always agree on whether or not certain acts of homicide (think of self-defense) would be defined as being absolutely wrong despite the unfortunate situations of loss of life.

Similarly, there are also gray areas when it comes to political views.

2. Don’t assume everyone you know thinks the same way you do. We all know others in our circles who have different views.

Your family member, friend, colleague, or acquaintance just may have different views from what you believe, so don’t be surprised about things they say. You may see the world one way, but others see it differently. One isn’t necessarily right and the other wrong. This principle may be well understood generally, but I’m sure everyone has had experiences where you were surprised to learn of another’s views on a particular subject.


3. Try not to sound confrontational or imposing. Choosing your words thoughtfully when expressing your views could make a difference in the mood of the conversation.

I’ve heard supposedly mature adults use snarky remarks with these common choices of words: “You like <name of public figure>? Or “I don’t know why/what...” Those phrases not only sound confrontational, but they also show a lack of substance, expressing more of disgust than surprise. These seemingly harmless statements tend to antagonize. Public figures attract polarizing judgments, whether or not they actually deserve them. The same principle goes for policies. Rather than speaking in a manner that you appear to assume the listener would agree with, use carefully chosen language. Phrases such as “I don’t know how you feel...” or “You may feel differently” can soften the conversation, reducing the likelihood of an argumentative response.

4. Avoid labeling and name-calling. The common slurs aren’t valid most of the time anyway.

Labeling and name-calling has been all too common. Without spelling out the usual slurs flowing from all sides, not only are they inaccurate for the most part, but their use discredits the individuals using them and also gives an abysmal impression on the bigger group.

5. More on choosing your words carefully.

Many questions may begin with, “Why do you....” The use of the word “why” often has a critical connotation, especially in discussions in politics. People usually have valid reasons for taking a particular stance on an issue. Try using, “Could you tell me what you feel about...” or “I’d like to know what the liberal/conservative view is on <particular issue>.” This shows more respect to what the other person may feel, which could be reciprocated. You can also ask somebody to gently explain their position. Listen thoughtfully and try to understand their viewpoint. You may not agree, but you may also learn something surprising.

6. Those with different views actually have common ground. Try to work towards acknowledging that reality.

As much as many don’t want to admit it, those with differing views can usually find some mutual agreement and common ground. This can include views on the economy, national security, equality, law and order, and the environment, among others. In addition, common ground may also exist on social issues, even if it may be difficult to identify. Americans have successfully addressed many problems and made necessary changes throughout the country’s history. You may not totally agree with some common views on your own side and you might also give some credit to the other side about certain continuous issues. Despite general consensus that does exist, division largely exists on how to handle them, and we should consider what is more important: solving a problem or subduing the “other side.”

7. Healthy discussion and disagreement is as American as it gets.

After our nation’s 1776 Independence was secured with the Treaty of Paris in 1783 (officially ending the American Revolution), our Founding Fathers went through much debate on figuring out what kind of country the United States of America would be. Drafting of the Constitution of the United States involved much heated discussion. It was not even very popular among the people at first, and it took a few years for the original thirteen states to ratify what we see today as a sacred document. Political parties evolved during the administration of George Washington, but Washington himself warned of factions in his Farewell Address.

Division is a reflection of human nature as we are all unique individuals, an oversimplification that lays out the basics of just why people are not perfectly united. We as Americans need to remember we are lucky that we can openly discuss our views and disagree with those in power.

But the key is to do this without violence or inciting hatred.

Conclusion

The tips presented likely won’t mend the wounds of our division. Rather, they are offered to help facilitate civil, and perhaps interesting, conversations. The hope is that speaking with civility could be small steps to help with some healing. We need to prioritize what is really important for society and humanity, and it’s likely not our own politics. Practicing these lessons isn’t always easy. I have to admit, I struggle with all of this as well.

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