Nationally and locally, we’re dealing with a lot of flash-point issues as we approach the November election. It can be hard to stay civil with each other, but here are some rules I try to apply to my own behavior in grappling with controversy.
1. Don’t accuse people of sowing discord just because they don’t fall in line. Maybe they believe it would be wrong to “go along just to get along.” It’s better to convince than insult. No one likes to be ordered to agree.
2. Object to behavior, not identities. It’s touchy enough to argue that a statement is false, but calling someone a liar is really fighting words.
3. And speaking of behavior, respond to what people actually say and do, not what you imagine they think or want, or what you imagine “people like them” think or want.
4. In other words, treat people as individuals; don’t blame them for what you believe everyone in their “team” thinks. If you object to something a group’s leadership is doing, say that instead. The member you’re talking to may agree, but may have other priorities about the group’s overall program.
5. Don’t assign the opposition to a political party as an insult, as in “that’s just like a Republican” or “that’s just like a Democrat.” If your opposition is a large group, you don’t even know what faction they all belong to; it’s probably a mix. You can support your own group without insulting everyone who belongs to another, especially when the thing you’re objecting to is common in people in general, not just the group you’re mad at today. “That other team, they always cheat, but my team are all sterling individuals.”
6. Try not to assume that an opponent of your policy hates anyone who benefits from it. Maybe your spending proposal is unpopular for some other reason than the good thing you want to spend money on. Maybe your proposal to eliminate a bad thing is unpopular because it has ugly side effects, not because your opponent is heartless about suffering. If someone has tried to tell you what the problem is, were you listening?
7. Don’t miss the chance to find common ground on goals. Your opponent may object to your path, not your destination. There may be other ways to get there. Have you really tried exploring them?
8. Finally, argue about issues, not personalities. If someone’s rude behavior is the issue, address that - don’t make it about politics. It’s hard enough to find common ground when we’re frank about what’s really bugging us. It all goes to pot when we fight proxy wars.
These rules don’t always work for me; I still sometimes lose my temper when I’m crossed. But they help.