Modern politics is war. The goal is to completely overwhelm, dominate, and overpower. The problem is that when one side “wins,” they have to continue fighting to maintain the high ground. The other side is perpetually working to overthrow and take their turn behind the wheel.
Today, political dialogue is almost always public and arguments are crafted to embarrass, demonize, and score political points. Both sides have given up on the other. Liberals and conservatives have largely determined that those one “the other side” are ignorant and irrational, even evil.
Are we too quick to condemn? Are we guilty of assuming we fully comprehend the hearts and intentions of those who disagree with us?
If we really believe we are right, shouldn’t we be a little more tactful in how we discuss the political principles that matter most to us?
Imagine what could happen if we weren’t so quick to give up on others. Imagine what we could accomplish politically if we learned how to actually have engaging conversations with others.
Pro Tip: Remember that in politics you aren’t just battling someone’s ideas, you’re battling their pride. Studies have shown that logic and facts are simply insufficient to convince people to join your side. In reality, the best way to break apart an argument is by asking a lot of very good questions. Prepared questions asked in meekness and civility allows the person to question their own positions without surrendering their pride. It helps them recognize how relatively little they may actually know about the issue and they will often seek to turn the attention away from themselves by asking questions in return. If you have maintained a relationship of respect during the conversation, those return questions are a great opportunity to present a well-prepared presentation of ideas. The other person is much more likely to be persuaded because their ego isn’t at stake. Good questions are the best way to take apart a faulty argument without being a jerk. In fact, they often lay a foundation of civility which prepares the person’s heart for a change of opinion.
Am I the only person profoundly impressed by someone who can enter a hostile environment and keep their cool?
I’m disappointed as I see self-proclaimed Christians preaching love on Sunday and metaphorically check their religion at the door by preaching Facebook hate Monday-Saturday. When will the parable of the good samaritan or the story of mean something to us? I think we are too quick to jump to righteous indignation and too slow to minister and teach with compassion. It’s easy to be upset. It’s much more difficult to keep your cool and talk about hard things. But from my experience, one is generally much more useful productive than the other.
I don’t want to treat someone in a way that would make them uncomfortable asking for my help the next day. I want to treat them in a way that won’t make them embarrassed to admit they were wrong. Even if neither of us changes our mind, I want to talk with my “political opponents” in a way that causes them to say to themselves, “I don’t agree with the conclusion he came to, but dang, he’s an impressive person. I’d love to talk with him again soon.” That gives me another chance to teach and persuade him.
It seems to me that many political commentators or officials who have public conversations with political adversaries are much more concerned about becoming popular with their peers and fans and staying in office than about actually making progress. In discussing politics, so many people believe the other side would agree with them if only they would listen, but then they debate and argue in such an abrasive way they guarantee that others will never actually listen. If you really believe your argument is sound and if you’re committed to actually persuading others to agree with you, you will do everything you can to make sure your conversation is civil and respectful. And who knows, maybe there’s yet much to learn from those who disagree with us politically.
I have been taught that power is simply the capacity to influence, and that each of us has a duty to obtain as much power we possibly can and then to use it in only noble and honorable ways. In the long run, contention destroys our power or capacity to influence others.
Contention turns people against us. It makes bitter enemies of those with opposing view and causes good people with similar views to retreat. Hostility causes all to abandon the fanatic except those few with similar views who find joy in mud slinging and belittling disparagement. Politics is difficult enough without backbiting, why would good people choose to participate in such a dirty sport?
I love the movie Wonder Woman. I love what it teaches about the nature of man. As I have previously described, conservatives are naturally pessimistic about the nature of man while liberals are inherently optimistic. Conservatives believe man in inherently evil and sinful in nature and that few have overcome this nature, while liberals believe that while there are a few bad apples, men are inherently good. As in most cases, I believe truth is a synthesis between the two polarized perspectives. In Wonder Woman, Diana believed that Ares was solely responsible for the evil that exists in the world and if only she could defeat him, all evil would fade away.
Diana said, “I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. And learned that inside every one of them there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves, something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So I stay. I fight and I give. For the world I know can be. This is my mission now, forever.”
Why would love save the world? Love opens hearts and minds, strengthens relationships, and improves communication and unity.
Wonder Woman believed that there’s a battle waging in our hearts between good and evil, and we are daily choosing which side we will feed. We can also influence the choices of others, but only if they view us as friends. I believe correct education is a critical part of saving our country, but this education is only effective if it is essentially universal. Solutions are only permanent when they are nearly universally admired and implemented.
Service, compassion, and will open the critical doors into the hearts and minds of others. Some hearts and minds cannot be won because the individuals have agendas and are not teachable or compassionate. But I believe most people do not fit this description and are in fact good, reasonable people whose choices can be influenced by gradual conversation and educational efforts characterized by mutual respect and civility.
To me, the real question is whether we want a victory in the short term or in the long term. Do we want to gain short-term political points and support now, or healthy, lasting relationships with all who truly love America which make long-term national progress possible?
Here are some of my favorite quotes on listening and persuasion:
“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”
― Robert Frost
“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”
― Jimi Hendrix
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
― Leo Buscaglia
“It takes a great man to be a good listener.”
― Calvin Coolidge
“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”
― Bernard M. Baruch
“Sometimes it’s not the strength but gentleness that cracks the hardest shells.”
― Richard Paul Evans, Lost December
“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.”
— Simon Sinek
“There is a difference between truly listening and waiting for your turn to talk.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
“We are all so desperate to be understood, we forget to be understanding.”
— Beau Taplin
“Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.”
— Dale Carnegie
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
— Dale Carnegie
“When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity. Don’t criticize.”
— Dale Carnegie
“Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”
— Dale Carnegie
“The world is full of people who are grabbing and self-seeking. So the rare individual who unselfishly tries to serve others has an enormous advantage. He has little competition.”
— Dale Carnegie
“You will never get into trouble by admitting that you may be wrong. That will stop all argument and inspire your opponent to be just as fair and open and broad-minded as you are. It will make him want to admit that he, too, may be wrong.”
— Dale Carnegie
“Three-fourths of the people you will ever meet are hungering and thirsting for sympathy. Give it to them, and they will love you.”
— Dale Carnegie
If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.
— Abraham Lincoln, Temperance Address of 1842
Jacob is Financial Economics major in his senior year at Brigham Young University–Idaho and a Senior Intern over Development and Digital Operations at the Madison Liberty Institute. He was raised in Mesa, Arizona and currently serves as the Director of Outreach for the Columbus Center for Constitutional Studies and as the Director of the Restoration Generation. He is a researcher and has assisted with various projects, such as the Harvard Divinity School’s Religious Literacy Project. Jacob is the oldest of seven siblings and his family currently lives in Queen Creek, Arizona.