Monday, November 14, 2016

How to Change the Conversation

Right now, everyone who didn't vote for Trump is reeling at his election. We are angry, upset, and afraid. Sadly, living in a democracy means that when the majority decides, everyone must abide by the decision.

Part of the social contract we abide by is the free choice to accept the consequences of other people’s decisions. 

Not coincidentally, living with the consequences of other people’s choices is part of living in community, any community, big or small, family or voluntary. And this is hard work.
Just look at how often churches fold or split. Look at how often marriages end in divorce. Look at how often friendships end. It’s nothing new for a large group within a community to be angry and upset about the choices made by the majority. The anger and division within America right now after this election is nothing new. This is the business of living in a democracy. We have agreed to live with the consequences of the choice of the majority.

The key to change is not anger or judgment. It is convincing argument. 

We decry the electoral college, saying it disenfranchises people. But in fact, it is an important tool to keep the voices of groups of Americans heard. Currently, the only reason rural America has a voice is the electoral college. Without that, their votes would count for nothing. This is precisely why we have two chambers of Congress – because the Founding Fathers wished to avoid population having the final say over all legislation.

So what do you do if you are a red voter in a blue state, or a blue voter in a red state? Argue convincingly. 

Women did not get the vote because they took it by violence. They made a convincing argument, repeatedly, for decades. And then enough men were convinced by their argument to grant them the right to vote.
Martin Luther King provided powerful arguments to end discrimination, and white people granted many of his requests.
But how can we argue convincingly? In a world overfilled with facts and arguments and infotainment, how can we get attention for our cause and then argue it?
  1. Relationship. There is nothing more powerful than relationship to change hearts and minds. The question of abortion is abstract until your friend or family member receives a cancer diagnosis in her first trimester. The question of sexuality is abstract until your child or uncle comes out of the closet. We must pursue relationships with people who do NOT agree with us! 
  2. Relationship. We cannot argue AT people and change their hearts and minds. A pro-life person cannot simply befriend a pro-choice person with the goal of changing his mind. Instead, we must learn about the other person. Learn what she cares about. Learn what makes him angry. Learn what we share in common. As the relationship unfolds, the discussion about abortion will come naturally, without defensiveness. 
  3. Relationship. Most people are not bigots, racists, or sexists. Most people simply believe what they believe because they have no reason to believe otherwise. Until I talked to a black friend about the Confederate Flag, I did not realize it was offensive to black people. I simply thought it was an expression of Southern pride. I was not racist, just uninformed. It was in the context of relationship that I learned about the fears and concerns of people different from me. Why do people fear Muslims? It’s not because they are racist. It’s because they don’t know any Muslims personally, but they know that Muslims destroyed the Twin Towers and part of the Pentagon. When we understand the basis for their fears, we can address their valid concerns with rational facts. 

I am horrified by the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency. 

But I sought to understand his supporters before November 8th. I know why they voted for him. I don’t agree with their reasons, but I understand them. And now I can address their concerns. Because I sought to understand them and preserve the relationship, I have the access to discuss their concerns and my concerns and try to find common ground for solutions. Powerful argument is about seeking to understand first, not seeking to BE understood. That is where our future lies. Seek out the people who are different from you and build relationships with them.

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