Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

7.28.2016

Before We Can Talk About Politics, We Need to Talk About How We Talk About Politics

Or, Empathy Is an Antidote to Righteousness

When it's time to talk politics.

This might seem a little disjointed because it is only my part of the conversation, but here are some comments I made during a Facebook discussion (with someone advocating a third-party candidate) after the first night of the Democratic National Convention earlier this week:

"Are you wanting to talk about politics or are you wanting to talk about how we talk to each other about politics? Because I see both coming through in your posts in a way that makes it hard to know quite what the topic is."

"And are you wanting to talk about politics? Because it seems your conclusions are drawn and your mind is set in stone ("I won't buckle, I won't be swayed"). So what does that leave to talk about?"

"But when you begin with the conclusions that the other candidates are irredeemable, it doesn't seem to leave much room for offering reasonable counterpoints . . . "

"Personally, I'm horrified by the prospect of his being president, as I think he puts his own interests above everyone else's to a far larger degree than most people. I don't think he's a good person and I don't think he'd be good for the country. However, I realize that if I say that to someone who likes Trump, I'm not inviting them to a reasonable discussion about the man because I'm getting their dander up. Their reaction will be angry and defensive. The same way that the statements by others that you've referenced about your choice to vote for a third party candidate have gotten your dander up."

"That's why I asked my original question. Because before we can talk about politics, we need to talk about how we talk to each other about politics. We need to figure better ways to be open to each other before any actual talking will take place."

"Did you see my post from this morning? I'm sure it's not perfect, but it was my attempt to invite discussion without causing anger and defensiveness. It reads:
It would be easy for me to rave about how much I loved all the speeches last night at the DNC since they hit my intellectual and emotional sweet spots of agreement. I'm excited. Filter bubbles being what they are, though, I'm more interested in hearing the reactions of those of you who weren't so excited about what you heard. It's hard for me to imagine how someone couldn't have loved it because it was so spot on for me, so help me expand my perspective and tell me your thoughts.

Caveat: I'm not looking for vitriol and debate in the comments, just an opportunity for you to share perspectives and listen to each other. Let's be nice.

" . . . There is, of course, a catch. "We the people" is a collective entity, not an individual will. Since we don’t always agree with each other, the “us” that is the government will sometimes act in ways we, as individuals, do not support. That’s how participatory democracy works in a large republic. Part of being a grown up, and a citizen, is accepting the fact that the democratic "we" will often not agree with the individual "I." When we insist on speaking of the government as something other than ourselves, we are actually saying that people who disagree with us do not have the right to take part in the democratic process. . . . " (from "Us" Not "Them")

To consider it with other language, this just happened to be part of my audiobook reading during my commute today:

From The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. Also:
How to Win an Argument

The social intuitionist model offers an explanation of why moral and political arguments are so frustrating: because moral reasons are the tail wagged by the intuitive dog. A dog's tail wags to communicate. You can't make a dog happy by forcibly wagging its tail. And you can't change people's minds by utterly refuting their arguments. . . .

[Dale] Carnegie repeatedly urged readers to avoid direct confrontations. . . . He used a quotation from Henry Ford to express it: "If there is any one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own."

It's such an obvious point, yet few of us apply it in moral and political arguments because our righteous minds so readily shift into combat mode. The rider and the elephant work together smoothly to fend off attacks and lob rhetorical grenades of our own. The performance may impress our friends and show allies that we are committed members of the team, but no matter how good our logic, it's not going to change the minds of our opponents if they are in combat mode too. If you really want to change someone's mind on a moral or political matter, you'll need to see things from that person's angle as well as your own. And if you do truly see it the other person's way--deeply and intuitively--you might even find your own mind opening in response. Empathy is an antidote to righteousness, although it's very difficult to empathize across a moral divide.

(bolded emphasis mine)
So. Empathy. So simple, yet so, so hard.

Previously quoted from The Righteous Mind: An obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition. It is a feature of our evolutionary design, not a bug or error that crept into minds that would otherwise be objective and rational. . . . We are indeed selfish hypocrites so skilled at putting on a show of virtue that we fool even ourselves.

Empathy. So simple, yet so, so hard.



Empathy. See also:

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