I love getting into deep, complicated discussions with people. For example, what are the political and social implications of the fact that people who score high in the personality trait Conscientiousness tend to identify as conservative and those who score high in Openness tending to identify as liberal? Or what does it mean to “live your truth” and can one do that as a Christian while still accepting God’s truth as the absolute moral authority?
Talking about those sorts of things (or even just listening) makes me come alive. This is one reason I love podcasts that deep-dive into complicated topics. Two of the most recent were “The Heart of the Abortion Debate” from Crossway Podcast and “Radical Self-Discovery with Jator Pierre” from the Awaken With JP Sears Show. On this latter one, they opened with talking about “this interesting, tight-knitted, hyper-constricted PC culture” and the question, “Why the hell do you think we’re so PC here in 2019?”
This latter question went in a curious direction that I’ve been pondering for more than a week now. Because PC topics are so emotionally charged, “many of us become emotionally blinded and we don’t bring in a lot of logic,” to quote Jator Pierre. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that most of us don’t know how to take responsibility for how we feel or how to effectively communicate and share in a back-and-forth dialogue.
Taking Away Voices
Wikipedia says the term political correctness “is used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society.” It sounds good in theory, but in practice it has turned into a culture where certain people try to silence any ideas or words that offed them without caring how that might affect others outside the PC-protected groups. Instead of seeing words as vehicles to communicate different viewpoints and facilitate dialogue, they see words as violent and react defensively.
“Not many of us are taught how to communicate, how to share, how to dialogue, how to hear, how to reflect, and how to notice when we’re emotionally charged to be able to take maybe a step back for a second or two to feel what’s coming up, to notice what’s coming up, and then to continue on with a dialogue. Most of us go into a defended posture, in my experience, and then go on the attack.” — Jator Pierre
It also has the side-effect of encouraging the offended person blame others for how they feel. We’re heading toward a culture where people think they have a right to avoid being offended by someone else. What they don’t realize or care about is that their refusal to hear offensive things leads to them hurting and/or shutting down others who don’t agree with them. Instead of bringing people together the PC movement creates further polarization and enmity.
“So many of us don’t take responsibility for how we feel, for how we emote, for how we feel internally. And so many of us have been programmed and still buy into the idea and story that other people are responsible for how we feel and how we navigate life and how we see life. That for me is, in all honesty, is BS.” — Jator Pierre
Instead of learning how to talk with people who disagree with us, PC culture tells us to take away their voices. It only protects you if you identify with certain groups/ideas. But as long as there’s freedom of thought and speech there will be disagreements, which means someone is going to get offended. For this reason, many people see political correctness as the antithesis of free speech. What started out as a movement to protect people has turned into a war between groups who offend each other, with one side insisting they’re the only ones who have a right to avoid being offended.
Silence Helps No One
I think most of us could agree there are certain groups of people we would rather not hear from. For example, those who vehemently spout hate against people of a certain race, ethnicity, or country can cause emotional, social, and cultural damage with their words. It can even lead to physical violence. But is telling them to shut up really the solution?
Silencing groups that scare us doesn’t do any good. No one is going to change their ideas just because the dominant culture says we don’t want to hear from you. It’s far more likely that silencing dangerous groups will make them even more tight-knit, insular, and radical than they were before. Not every silenced group is actually dangerous, though. Equally concerning is the fact that the group which dominant culture supports might begin attacking the silenced groups or even (in cases such as Nazi Germany) killing them off.
Instead of pushing people we disagree with out we need to let anyone say anything they want. Sure you’re not going to like everything they say, but that’s the only way to guarantee you get to say anything you want to say. Only by letting other people speak their truth (to borrow a phrase from the JP Sears podcast) can we have the freedom to speak our truths.
We need to be able to say to anyone, “I disagree with you and here’s why — let’s talk.” And we also need to be able to accept that from others and take responsibility for the feelings that come up inside us as a result. Will it be uncomfortable? Of course! Does it come natural to put our defensive feelings aside and engage with people who disagree with us? Not often. But that’s how real conversations happen and how truly bad ideas have a chance to be overwhelmed in the “free public market of ideas.”
Tips Going Forward
So how do we take responsibility for our own feelings, move past the sort of emotion that blinds us, and learn to have real conversations with people?
- Recognize that other people don’t cause you to have feelings. Your feelings arise because of how your brain deals with different kinds of situations and behaviors.
- Remember that what offends you might not offend others. It is not other people’s responsibility to educate themselves on all your triggers and avoid them.
- Identify the emotion you are experiencing and name it (anger, fear, shame, etc.). Let yourself feel the emotion and investigate possible internal reasons it has surfaced now.
- Let go of blame narratives that cast you as a victim and the people who offended you as perpetrators. People don’t “make you feel” awful. You control and choose your reaction.
If you want to get help with this, explore cognitive behavioral therapy as a way to help your re-train how your minds works. This sort of therapy has been a big help to me in dealing with my anxiety. For example, I’ve identified raised voices and shouting as one of the things that triggers my anxiety. Now instead of just feeling assaulted by raised voices (whether they are or aren’t directed against me) I can take a step back and manage my reaction. It’s not other peoples’ job to know what triggers my anxiety and avoid it. It’s my job to take responsibility for my feelings and excuse myself from the situation if I must.
Now that we’re working on taking responsibility for our own feelings, we can start talking with people who hold different viewpoints than we do.
- Assume positive intent. I’ve found that in many cases, my interpretation of what someone says is worse than what they really meant to say. If we go into something assuming people are out to get us, we’ll become more defensive and also put them on edge. But if you can start by assuming they’re not bad people and really listen, then you’ll get somewhere. Of course, you’ll also encounter people who really do mean to be awful but they’re more rare than you might think.
- Forget all the insults in your vocabulary. Your goal here is to have a dialogue, not a contest regarding which side can say the nastiest things about the other.
- Find out what they really think. It’s easy to assume we know where others are coming from when in reality we tend to have overly simplistic and negative views of people who aren’t like us. Click here to watch a TED talk that’s a great example of what happens when someone really listens to the “enemy.”
- Be open to learning something. There is value in diversity of opinion. You don’t know everything and there’s a good chance that someone you disagree with might have something of value to say even if you don’t change your mind about their larger worldview. At the very least, opposing ideas help you refine your own ideas in a way that never happens if you only talk with people who think the same way you do.
- Redefine your goals. Instead of focusing on changing the other person’s mind in one conversation focus on making a connection on a human level. Listen to their viewpoints and find common ground.
- Read articles like “How To Talk To People You Disagree With” and “We Should All Speak to People We Don’t Agree With. Here’s How.”
I hope this article gave you something to think about. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments and hope you’ll share any tips you have for engaging in productive conversations with people who don’t see the world the same way you do.
Featured image credit: Rawpizel via Pixabay