I spent a lot of my time on liberal news sites in the last years. I scoured feminist Instagram pages and turned off radio stations that were interviewing candidates I didn’t support. If someone didn’t share my views on a critical topic, I cut all ties with them.
I thought I was helping myself out by staying informed when I clicked on those sites. I figured cutting people out would make me happier — after all, I’m supposed to surround myself with people who make me feel good. I felt confident in my beliefs after talking with other feminists and Democrats. I was an activist ready to take on the world.
That was until somebody wanted to talk about reverse racism.
Now, I knew the answer. It was almost reflexive. I had seen it everywhere I went. So I replied. I rolled out the usual answer and waited for them to fire back the usual response.
But instead, they asked me why I believed that. And suddenly, my textbook answer meant nothing.
Why was it not real? Did I even have an answer that I could explain?
The truth was that I didn’t.
Most people don’t like talking about politics with those who don’t share their views. It makes sense. Arguments about politics can be some of the most frustrating and pointless conversations out there. But, despite the anger surrounding them, political conversations need to happen. When held properly, they are an essential part of growing your own personal beliefs and understanding about the world around you, and necessary if we want to make political change. And as somehow who has had many, I can vouch for that.
It’s easy to assume that you know both arguments about a topic. If someone voted for Trump, they believe that a border wall is necessary. People who don’t support gun control believe in the second amendment above all. Women who don’t believe in feminism have internalized misogyny. But more often than not, we are wrong.
The first rule of a political conversation is to ask why, and then to listen. And then, ask why again. Go deeper. Peel away the reflexive answers and actually get to the root of the beliefs.
Most political conversations divert to yelling because nobody wants to listen. We assume the other party is going to say a certain thing because that’s what all Trump voters believe, or that’s what all feminists think. We overlook any points they are making and counter with our own, overused rebuttal. By taking the time to understand where the other person is coming from and what they actually mean, many benefits can be found. To do this, look beyond the catchphrases and get to the heart of the viewpoint. Catchphrases are often an easy shorthand for complex and nuanced ideas. The willingness to go beyond these catchphrases and explore these concepts that challenge your ideas lets you truly understand the complexities of an issue. The things you learn from going beyond could be factors you hadn’t even considered, and are important in shaping your own personal beliefs.
Let me go back to my story about reverse racism.
In my conversation, I was parroting the same response I had heard on all of the pages I visited: reverse racism isn’t real. Racism is systemic and rooted in power imbalance. I told myself I was willing to listen to my adversary’s point. but in my mind, I closed off all ideas aside from my own.
The next rule in political conversation is to challenge respectfully. My challenger did this. They brought up a point that I hadn’t heard before, but they didn’t yell. I had time to hear their words and comprehend them. It was a valid point once I was willing to hear it. A point that my answer of “racism is systemic and rooted in power imbalance” didn’t explain. Because I hadn’t realized that this other viewpoint existed, my answer and thus my belief about the topic had some holes in it. My answer was a base-level “no”.
So I did some thinking. I had a lot of conversations. I analyzed myself. Why wasn’t I able to explain this idea I had? I had some more conversations. I asked myself questions. I visited opposing news sites and meme pages. Finally, I had an answer. And this time, it was my own answer.
In the end, I still believe reverse racism isn’t real. At least, for the most part. My answer is still “no,” but I actually have my own ideas this time. I went back to the person and I talked them through my opinion. This time, I was able to address all of their concerns, and they even addressed some of mine.
Race, like most things, is a complicated issue.
When it comes to politics, it is easy to repeat what other people believe is true. But in order to make a change, compromise, and stand up for issues, we need to understand ourselves. We need to understand our ideas and the ideas around us. It’s impossible to grow if nobody is there to push you past “comfortable”.
Political conversations are never comfortable, but by talking to people I disagree with, I finally feel like I have a grasp of the complicated world around me.