Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Arguing About Social Concerns

In a nation as polarized as the United States of America it is difficult to discuss social concerns in a rational way. This undermines democracy, and causes us to forget that as a nation of diverse peoples, we hold many essential things in common.

This article is not for ideologues and political fanatics. It is for people who genuinely want to discuss social concerns to become better informed. If you are driven to promote your political party, favorite candidate, single issue, or ideology, stop reading now.

To those who think ethically about social engagements, read on!

During the recent election, I sat with my family to watch the returns and projections on Fox News, CNN, and Bloomburg. My family members were fairly evenly divided. Some voted for Trump and some voted for Biden. That night we had an beneficial conversation about politics and our hopes for the future of the nation. The first rule of our family conversation is to respect disagreement. The second rule is to ask questions in a non-confrontational manner. Why do you believe that? What do you think is at stake for you? Questions like these help us to gain a better understanding of the concerns of the other person.

These days, social conversations are like cutting through thick brush to reach a sunlit clearing with open sky overhead. We have to navigate through gaslighting, misinformation, and heated rhetoric. We face shifting lines as news sources that have been considered reliable in the past are increasingly politicized. In other words, getting at the facts is hard work. Read and consider all sources with equal skepticism. Don't rely on official fact-checking. Check the facts for yourself.

Poorly informed people who cannot address the substance of an argument often resort to in-explicit language and obscurantism. If you are unable to understand what someone is saying, this may be the reason. Asking the person non-confrontational questions can help them to consider the topic on a deeper level.

In politics, obsurantism or the refusal to address issues of concern to the general public may be due to a hidden agenda. In this case, attempts to draw out pertinent information by asking questions usually does not work. A better approach is to research the political figure's past voting record.

In social media, the humble poorly informed tend to remain silent, and the arrogant tend to resort to ad hominem. Discern the difference. Engage the humble and ignore the arrogant. Respect traditional wisdom and community knowledge, but remember that the unconventional thinker may offer something of value. 

Social media platforms are mainly used to interact with family and friends. Many do not regard social media as a serious venue for social conversation, but it can be. This medium has great potential for sharing informed positions in a non-confrontational way. Consider social media a tool that should be used ethically.

Always consider your motivation when engaging others on social issues. Self-awareness is important for measuring your sensitivity to how issues are presented and discussed. Avoid presenting opinions as fact, and be respectful of all opinions. However, do not hesitate to present facts with reliable links. Social engagement should be viewed as an opportunity to learn and to share learning.