How to have that difficult conversation when everything seems at stake?

Updated: Mar 13

In light of a lack of leadership on a national and local level - Americans of all political views need to come together and figure out what we will do as a society to overcome this scary challenge. How do we have that difficult conversation?

We don’t all agree. Not all the time. That is the essence of a democracy. Discussion is the glue of freedom. But how do we bridge the gap, and discuss without arguing in a time of crisis?

To me, you start with the Parable of the Cave. So much of the information we get is much like a shadow on the wall. Think about it. Did you readthe actual report cited? Did you hear the whole speech? Did you read the headline or the whole article? Cable news is mostly commentary — and we tend to be too busy to seek out the roots of information — we just trust the headlines. And, so we trust the shadows. Plato was right.


And, the majority of Americans don’t even do that. Most don’t read a newspaper. Most don’t watch news on TV. Most get their headlines from social media — and that trends to be self-curated based on behavior — leaving an information gap.


We worry about feeding our families, paying our bills, and making ends meet. We worry about losing the ones we love. We can’t judge others, but come to terms with the fact that so many have become disconnected and disengaged. So, what you care about may not be on their radar. That does not make them bad people - and says more about the inclusiveness of our society.


So where to start? Well, ask and listen. We all like to talk about ourselves, of course — but by starting the conversation with questions you can get at the essence of what and why the other person feels the way they do. Frame it with a simple change in the pocket questions — such as: how do you pay for healthcare, how much does it cost, and what does it cover. Do they feel secure in that?


Don’t preach, don’t talk down or mansplain. Listen, find common ground and connect. The discussion has to be framed around where you find agreement — and then narrow your messaging to bring them closer to where you want to guide the discussion. Lead them from the big picture we can all agree on to the very specific, step by step.


Now, if someone is so far on the other end of the spectrum, getting through the hate/distrust and suspicion may be just too much. Agree to disagree.


But ask yourself — are you right? Is there a right or wrong? Can you compromise?

Also, what about emotion? Do you have a personal story about why you do what you do or how you got involved? Share it in context.


Choose words carefully, what sounds great to you might shout the other posts down — “progressive” “citizens” “reform” — this engages the left, but shuts down the right.

Look, these are tough times, but we need to ask more questions, show more empathy, and not take information at face value.


So, on that I will end this with the words of another great Western Philosopher, who came a few years after Plato. He wrote:




There is no monopoly on common sense

On either side of the political fence

We share the same biology, regardless of ideology

Believe me when I say to you

I hope the Russians love their children too.

- Sting

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