Talking to political opponents Pt. 1: Fear

If we want to advance our political viewpoint we will have to start convincing people that we don’t agree with. Even if you don’t win them over to your side you can at least establish a sensible basis of communication. That could come in handy when you need to work with them on a goal you can both agree on. In the shorter term I would just like to see less screaming at each other.

Arnold Kling is my inspiration when it comes to talking about politics. The tag line of his blog is “Take the most charitable view of those that disagree.” I think that is the key when it comes to talking to political opponents. I’ll talk about how to do that in another post but I will talk about why in this one.

So why take the most charitable view of political opponents? Because they are worried if not scared outright. The more strident the objection the more fear I hear. Unfortunately, the typical reaction to that fear is to become fearful in kind. That leads to harsh responses and the fear spiral is well on its way. Welcome to the current political climate!

I really think that recognizing fear is the key to starting actual discussions as opposed to yelling at each other. You can’t help but temper your response once you see fear in the other person. Only a psychopath would egg on fear once they detect it.

My suggestion for engaging with political opponents is to recognize and address their worry/fear. And no, calmly informing them how wrong they are is not going to accomplish that. There have been plenty of studies showing that people that have their views challenged with “facts” only makes them entrench further. I think this is because the underlying fear that motivated the outburst has gone unnoticed. If it is brought up they are told that their worry/fear is evil, wrong, or just stupid. Having what motivates you dismissed only reinforces the fear. Hence, the person giving out “facts” just doesn’t get it and is clearly an opponent to what is true and right.

If you really want to talk with your opponents, and I think this is a very good idea, you will need to do it in a way they understand. That means you will have to actually understand where they are coming from. You will have to know and understand them to the point that you could pass for someone in the same political camp as your opponent. Stay tuned for my next posts about the Three Languages of Politics and Political Turing Tests for some ideas of how to do that.