Ground rules for talking politics with your peers

Discussing politics with those whose views differ from your own can be very productive if done the right way.

November 5, 2012 10:28
1 minute read.

students. (photo credit: Wikicommons)


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Newswise — To figure out how to talk about politics without getting in virtual—or actual—fist fights, Wake Forest University School of Divinity professor Michelle Voss Roberts says we should take our cues from a surprising place – religion.

Religion and politics are notoriously divisive topics. With the November elections on the horizon, discussing politics with friends and family can be challenging. Many avoid conflict by talking only with like-minded people.

But Voss Roberts suggests we can learn something from what has worked to encourage civil conversations about religion. She says the following ground rules for interreligious dialogue are relevant for creating more peaceful political discussions.

1. Assume the best. Be honest and sincere, and expect the same intentions in those who differ from you.

2. Allow others to define themselves. You are not talking to a stereotype or a caricature, but a living, thinking person. When you describe their position, they should be able to see themselves there.

3. Compare apples to apples. It is unfair to compare the lofty ideals of one side with the missteps, gaffes, and constrained actions of the other. Policy proposals belong beside policy proposals, track records beside track records.

4. Develop a capacity for self-criticism. We can only learn from one another if we are able to acknowledge our own mistakes and admit that we do not have all the answers.

Why bother? “If we set out with the purpose not of changing our dialogue partners but of learning from them, what we learn changes us,” says Voss Roberts, assistant professor of theology and culture. “We become more likely to see others as complex, thoughtful human beings.” She adds, “Political and religious affiliations form the bedrock of deeply held notions of truth, authority, and identity. The entire world is at stake in political and religious disagreements, yet genuine interchanges can surprise and delight us.”

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