Feeling a little heated–the debate, I mean

It doesn't really relate, but isn't this the best picture, ever?! Source: http://forums.colbertnation.com/?page=ThreadView&thread_id=5788

Phew! Politics. Goodness! Is it ever NOT a heated debate about something? Not really. This morning, when I groggily popped onto Facebook, I found my friend had posted a link to an article detailing the latest update on the activities of the US House of Representatives. Anymore, politics are a hot topic for an online debate which can get downright ugly, and often these exchanges become pointless in the end.

(Imagine something like this: “I will yell to prove my point.”…. “NO YOU WON’T! I will yell even louder to prove my point and not concede or find common ground!”…. “Well, I’ll just be extreme to prove my point and do it so loudly you are drowned out!”.. . and so on. You get the idea….)

Because I don’t want to get into a debate here which would detract from the point, I am not going to tell you what the posted article was about. But I will tell you how the responses to my friend’s post went (totally paraphrasing here), with my little “I couldn’t resist! I had to weigh in!” reply at the end including my strategy to diffuse the argument into something effective and constructive. (Note: everything is written in first person, so follow the indents and colors.)

🙂

  • THIS SUCKS! WHAT A BUNCH OF BALONEY! The “issue at hand” is important for America! Why is it being attacked? It is so much more than the Congress’s simplified notion of being related to the “bigger issue!” GRRR!
    • I have no sympathy for you because I’m on the other side of the “bigger issue” and I blame the “issue at hand” for much of it.
  • Well, what about problems A, B, and C mister? You ever thought of that? The “issue at hand” is essential for dealing with those things.
    • Oh yeah, I’ve thought of A, B, AND C, but those are taken care of elsewhere. The “issue at hand,” however, is involved with the “bigger issue” so the “issue at hand” is on my naughty list.
  • [Counter-argument from friend #1:] Well, don’t you think “elsewhere” also contributes to the “bigger issue?” It’s not only their fault!
    • I seem to be on the defensive. Now I will use an extreme example to support my argument and detract from the validity of your point, while also illustrating my contempt for the “bigger issue”.
  • [Counter-argument from friend #2:] I don’t think you know anything at all. You sound stupid. Here are the reason facts A, B, and C are so important, and why they make the “issue at hand” so necessary and not evil. The “issue at hand” is separate from the “bigger issue”.
    • Why do you try to confuse the topic? The “issue at hand” is definitely what I’m mad at. The “issue at hand” is to blame 100% for the fact that A, B, and C exist in the first place. If the “issue at hand” didn’t exist and a few other extreme measures did, we wouldn’t have these “bigger issue.”
  • [Continued counter-argument from friend #2:] I am really mad at you now and am going to tell you that you are full of crap. And I’m going to reitirate the need for the “issue at hand” in order to deal with the very real problem of A, B, and C. So there!

At this point the owner of this Facebook page is completely out of the conversation. This has become an all-out Facebook debate-style war. What would happen if the argument was diffused with a little recognition of the complexity of the issue? I decided to test the theory (I swear there may be a formula to this!) while providing a counter-argument as well.

  • [This is me now:]  …. Step 1: I need to inform you of some facts to legitimize the necessity of “the issue at hand” to deal with A, B, and C. Step 2: (This could also come first in many cases:) I recognize your position and the complexity of the “bigger issue”. I am going to use statements that do not begin with “I” or “you” or personal opinions so the energy of the previous confrontations are removed. Now I will gently reassert the importance of recognizing the value in the “issue at hand.”
    • Reply to previous comment from friend #2 with a “my way or the highway, all-or-nothing” agenda. I’m going to come from nowhere to bring up another really “controversial issue” to make my original point more clear.
    • Reply to the new comment comment with a much more chilled out perspective (this is 10 hours later, which proves that “getting some air” might help), citing personal second-hand experience with the “bigger issue” that has shaped my perspective.
  • I choose to ignore your rather simplified–and outrageous–statement about the “controversial issue” in your first reply, because it would cause another angry debate. Instead I am focused on the calmness of your reply and the submission of a personal connection to both of the “issues.” Step 3: I see a common ground here. In a neutral voice, I relate the conceptual basis and underlying facts of human behavior to the “bigger issue” to explain why your extreme solutions won’t work for everyone. Humans are to blame, not the “issue at hand.” Step 4: I restate something about your argument that I can agree on to enforce that you are being heard. I acknowledge your passion for the issue. Step 5: Without using “should’s,” I express my optimism and hope for a way you could communicate your passion that could positively affect others on the “bigger issue” as well as problems A, B, and C. Perhaps you could advocate for the facts at the heart of both the “bigger issue” and the “issue at hand.” Step 6: Express gratitude for the civility in our discourse, which includes listening to my perspective.
    • I feel the change in tone. I am grateful for the constructive idea. I regret being so aggressive with my wordage at the start. Acknowledge my passion. But… what about this aspect of the “bigger issue?” Doesn’t that support my all-or-nothing assertion?
  • Acknowledge the logic of that perspective but cite the inability for any of us to control the actions of others. Praise your own self-control in relation to the “bigger issue” and named problems A/B/C, but discuss that not everyone may have the same extent of control. Acknowledge that there is not one solution, but that the best thing you or any of us can do (in this case specifically) is model the behavior we wish to see in others–or the behavior we see in others that we admire–to try to encourage our viewpoint.
    • Personal account for what informs my perspective and explains my anger. Acknowledge the points offered–“I have something to think about,” I say. I can see the validity in what you say. Expression of gratitude for the exchange.
  • My expression of gratitude as well. (happy face included)

While the guy and I did not come to an agreement on the “bigger issue,” or the “issue at hand,” we both managed to have a civil conversation and we left with perspectives we hadn’t considered before. It reminded me that at the center of many of these arguments is someone who has been hurt, and who may have formed incredibly strong feelings about the issue because of it.

Reading this without the specifics of the argument, maybe it seems very confusing or reactive. And much of the discussion was. The way facts are emotionally communicated seems to produce this super-charged outcome. If people try to find common ground, or be willing to hear the logic of the other’s argument (to suspend their emotional appeal for the moment), we might make headway on many issues. There will always be disagreement. But perhaps our ability to consider the motivations behind our opponents’ viewpoints will yield a better resolution to these controversies than what we’ve seen in the past.

Unfortunately, I know I will always have a chance to test my theory on communication. The good news is that I live in a country where I can communicate my opinions freely and expect them to be heard by someone. What a gift!

🙂 Have a great day!


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