Psychologist and Journey community member Dave Verhaagen helps Suzie Lind set some guidelines for difficult conversations in divided times (part one of a two-part series). Got comments or questions? Text us at (615) 861-9503 and join the conversation.
Notes from today’s conversation:
10 Principles of Talking to Friends, Family Members, Other Christians
1. Be clear about your goal – and decide whether it is noble and achievable. Is it to change a mind? Express your anger? Help the oppressed? Go on record? Some goals are better than others. State your goal clearly and in words in your mind before you decide to engage.
2. It’s okay not to talk – sometimes this is the wise decision. The idea that it is cowardly not to always engage is false and unwise.
3. Choose relationship over “rightness” – 80% of Americans say they have “very few or no friends” who are different from them politically. We will only get more polarized and divided if we allow ourselves to cut off those who think differently than we do.
4. Don’t make it personal – if you decide to engage, use “I” statements more than “You” statements. (“I was wondering about…,” “I was concerned about…,” or “Help me understand…,” not “You are racist,” “You hate this country,” etc.)
5. Talk in person, not over social media – social media debates go nowhere good. Don’t use your platforms to engage in angry or contentious debates.
6. Speak to the deeper issue – usually fear and safety (STUDY: Genie study (300 adults) – imagine: 1/2 group genie – able to fly; 1/2 group genie – completely safe, invulnerable to harm. “Fly” group – no change in conservative/liberal divide; conservatives endorsed more conservative issues, resistant to social change; “Invulnerable” group – social attitudes (toward women, gays, minorities, immigrants) shifted, became more open to social change); however, sometimes it can be uglier – collective narcissism
7. Think win/win – what do they want, what do you want? Is there common ground to be found? Can the discussion be framed in a way that looks at the good things each party wants? This doesn’t mean you have to agree that all attitudes or positions are the same or equally right, but it can mean that there might be underlying desires that are good and noble and can be spoken to in the interaction.
8. Be genuinely curious about the other person – listen well, have empathy; what led them here? (their context, their echo chamber, their own psychology)
9. Realize people can be biased without knowing it – Implicit Association Test, Dunning-Kruger effect, Broken Patterns research. Because of this, they may be truly upset and angry at the suggestion they hold biased attitudes because this is not how they view themselves.
10. Stick up for the oppressed – if you need criteria about when you should speak or act, this is it, but do it strategically (don’t just be the person who posts the angry screed on social media or angrily cuts off disagreeing family members, and so on). Use the other principles to enter into conversation or engagement if their attitudes or actions can have a harmful effect on the powerless.
White Too Long – Robert P. Jones – a must-read for all Christians about the church’s long history of complicity in racism in the U.S.
The Color of Compromise & How to Fight Racism – both books by Jemar Tisby are vital reading.
How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie – a timeless book on the strategy and skill of truly engaging people and building relationships.
Don’t Label Me: An Incredible Conversation for Divided Times – Irshad Manji – lays out a mindset about how to enter into these relationships and interactions. Not from a Christian perspective, but with some deep wisdom that is helpful.
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