Healing the Divide: Conversations across political lines are possible

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

It seems nearly impossible not to become visibly aggravated when a person says something that you disagree with. I’ve been in this situation very often — enough for me to remain calm and respectful toward those with different opinions.

I personally like to hear the ideas of those who disagree with me. When having a discussion on facts and philosophy, I want to hear as much as I can about others’ viewpoints and objectives, and open myself up to any new information they can give me about the subject at hand. I particularly enjoy it when people offer different insights, but I understand that not many people enjoy discussing issues with people they are at odds with. It’s an uncomfortable process.

However, I also know that all people like to see the country moving toward a happier, safer and more productive place for them and their children. I know that the only way to get there is to try to see the other side’s perspective. Regardless of whether or not you like to truly understand other perspectives and the knowledge of politics, it is within your very best interest to listen to them, as it allows all participants to assess common goals and how to work toward them. For example, my best friend is an adamant supporter of President Donald Trump, whereas I don’t appreciate him as a role model. We’ve talked about our differences and, as a result, I respect the president despite my reservations and my friend better understands the issues he presents.

In an attempt to talk to someone on the other side of the political spectrum, it is important to keep all judgment out of the discussion. If you genuinely want to know why someone who is pro-life doesn’t believe in abortion, ask them questions with the goal of understanding their perspective, rather than trying to prove them wrong. Before defending your personal opinion, listen to their opinion first. Consider it carefully and thoughtfully. Speak sincerely, with genuine interest and curiosity. Ask questions authentically, without condescension or malice, and people will respond sincerely, according to Judy Barber’s book, “Good Question! The Art of Asking Questions to Bring About Positive Change.”  

Keep in mind that others’ opinions and thoughts are rooted in their own experiences and upbringings. The context in which we see, hear or feel things can greatly impact our impressions of them for the rest of our lives. Remember that we can never, no matter how hard we try, completely understand someone else’s life experiences.

And others, no matter how much effort they put in, will never be able to completely understand your background, so it is best to try and communicate individual thought processes as effectively as possible. No matter what you aim to achieve by means of a conversation, always speak from personal perspective.

Saying, “I feel,” and, “I think,” and, “Personally, I find,” is to remain true to yourself and your identity. The “I” technique also makes it easier for another person to understand your perspective because the “I” reminds them of your humanity and subjectivity. The “I” strategy serves as an important reminder to you that your thoughts and opinions are those that are relative to your own experiences and goals. To me, it is helpful to repeatedly acknowledge that the message I’m trying to communicate is a result of my own experiences and knowledge.

I understand that I am limited in my own perspective, which is one of the reasons I seek to see others’ viewpoints. Learning more, regardless of what I’m learning about, further enhances my own credibility and, therefore, my opinion as a politically active citizen. To quote Socrates, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”

True wisdom lies in being open to the ideas and knowledge of others. Having productive conversations to comprehend others’ perspectives helps us better understand how to help everyone, not just those who share similar interests.

Arianna Scavone is a junior majoring in communication and law, history and culture. Her column, “Healing the Divide,” runs every other Thursday.