Discussing politics can be a tenuous activity these days. Whether at school, work, home, or (and I know you won't believe this) on Facebook, many people have seen political discussions melt down into yelling or name-calling.
We asked you to tell us your stories about successful conversations you have experienced, and heard some interesting responses.
Some people found that having a calm, rational discussion to be impossible.
For example, Constance Winstek found it difficult to start a conversation about any number of issues because her friends and family were ignoring facts.
"We agreed on basically nothing," she said. "I felt that it is quite useless to try to convince people when they are adamant, and will not accept scientific or data-driven information and facts."
Leon Crostlin was even more pessimistic, saying, "Just let it lie. You can't argue with ignorance."
However, we also heard about many successful conversations.
And we found that in these stories, there were some key ingredients to a civil conversation.
Many people found that by simply listening and letting the other person speak, the conversation didn’t melt down into a shouting match.
Roger Soloway even went so far as to impose rules for his family’s debates:
“My disagreements had to do with Bernie Sanders (my vote preference); Donald Trump (my wife's preference) and the Independent Green Party Candidate (my millennial son's preference). We all disagreed on points and I (Dad) invoked a principled process where whomever had the pen or pencil in hand had the floor and was free to speak while others were forced to listen to what point I was making. (I used this process and method when I was leading a training or workshop session and the class was to interrupting). When I finished I gave the pen or pencil (or other object) to my family member awaiting to respond and then they gave their opinions.”
Listening to others proved to be the most important ingredient for most of the stories we heard. People told us listening makes conversations more constructive, and leads to a more informative dialogue.
The goal of these discussions for some was to simply educate and be educated. That often includes the challenge of figuring out whose facts are accurate.
Constance Winstek has advice for those that want to better discussions:
“If you want to engage in conversation with those whom you disagree, then I would suggest the following: do not get emotional, stick to the facts and cite where you learned of the facts, keep to a logical progression of your argument, and know what your basic philosophical foundation is about the role of government and how citizens are affected.”
But using accurate information is only one step towards successfully educating each other. Being willing to learn is also crucial.
"Always remember to have an open mind," says Heather Sillar. "Never close down a conversation because you think the other person is wrong. Try to educate the other person and be educated by them. Most of all respect that people have different opinions and that's important in the U.S."
Acknowledging ideas different from one’s own also contributed to the success of some conversations, especially when people live in ideological “bubbles.”
One response summed up this philosophy, saying, “It's very easy in our world to click away the opinions we don't want to see. Conversations would be much more civil if both sides could listen and value one another, and understand that our country was founded on opposing views. And that we will move forward by arguing and discussing opposing views with civility.”
In order to truly listen to the other side, some people said that it simply came down to respect for one another.
We heard from parents and children and husbands and wives, who all have different opinions, but manage to discuss them calmly.
Linda Leckrone left us a voicemail about how she and her husband manage to talk about difficult issues despite their disagreements.
Listen below (or if it doesn't load for you, listen here):
Allison, a liberal, told us about a phone call she had with her father, a conservative. She said that despite their disagreements, she recognized that his opinions are no more valuable than her own.
“After we spoke, I realized we were able to talk with so much civility because we both share respect for the other person. I love and value my father no matter who he voted for, or how he feels about political issues. He is still a good person, trying to do what he thinks is best for himself, his family and his country.”