It's Presumptuous, Not Persuasive

Image credit: Pete Saloutos

Image credit: Pete Saloutos

During this election season, I've participated in many conversations about politics. While I am fortunate to have friends affiliated with very different political persuasions who are willing to discuss our differing viewpoints with good humor and good grace, it seems that this capacity is often lacking. 

Recently, I commented on a friend's post:

""I think that it is highly improbable that Clinton won't be nominated, but I don't have a crystal ball, so I'll wait to see what happens. Personally, I'd love to see Sanders take his momentum and run as third (fourth, fifth, what-have-you) party candidate. I also think that is unlikely, but who knows?"

A perfect stranger responded: 

"You don't need a crystal ball to see that Hillary will get the nomination. You also don't need a crystal ball to see that if Bernie runs as a third-party candidate, Trump will win. But perhaps a Trump win won't affect you much."  

She concluded her comment with a link to an article characterizing Sanders supporters as too privileged to vote against misogyny. 

Really? Wow. 

Since I prefer conversations in which there's some demonstrable interest in mutual understanding, I was inclined to ignore the comment in this particular exchange, but that seemed impolite, so I attempted to clarify:

"Hmmm. I apparently wasn't articulating myself with enough clarity, Bonnie. My point was simply that I won't jump to conclusions, however probable. I prefer to stay open to possibility, however improbable. As for your determination that Trump will win if Bernie runs as a third-party candidate, I obviously have a different perspective. I'm going to disregard the accusation of privilege via this article. I have no interest in attacking supporters of any party for holding different points of view. Best."

That was the end of my conversation with Bonnie.

Sadly, this exchange is representative of numerous exchanges that I've had or observed in the last few months. I often find myself lamenting people's apparent inability to constructively engage, or even tolerate, differing points of view. Far too often, it seems that people are so attached to their own perspectives and desired outcomes that they fail to communicate constructively, or even respectfully. I'm genuinely interested in differing perspectives on our political candidates, but it is challenging when people are more interested in persuasion than conversation. 

Personally, I prefer to have conversations in which different perspectives are perceived as an opportunity to learn from one another. I like conversations in which people listen to each other and ask open-ended questions with open minds and open hearts. I like conversations that invite us to explore what we think and why we think what we think without the need to change each other's minds. 

However, if persuasion is really your agenda, here are a few things I've learned along the way.

Dismissing someone's point of view is presumptuous, not persuasive. "That's ridiculous." "Wrong. You clearly haven't done your homework." "When you have more life experience, you'll know better." I'm pretty sure that each of us knows something, and none of us knows everything. When we fail to check our assumptions, ask questions, and generally act as if we know better than someone else, we privilege our own perspective at the expense of mutual respect and understanding. Let's listen and learn from one another.

Telling others what to do is presumptuous, not persuasive. "You must vote for X." "You can't vote for X." "You need to read this article." Political campaigns are built on advocacy, but last time I checked, in a democracy, We the People still have the right to make free and informed choices. Let's advocate with respect for agency.

Stating opinions as facts is presumptuous, not persuasive. "Candidate X will win." "Your vote for X is a vote for. Y." "You don't need a crystal ball to know that X will win." Just because someone sincerely believes it, doesn't make it objectively true. Let's make a habit of owning our opinions and examining what, if any, facts (and not just cherry-picked facts) support these.

Attacking candidates is presumptuous, not persuasive. "She's a liar." "He's a spoiler." "He's an idiot." I really dislike candidate-bashing, regardless of political affiliation. Most five-year-olds know that it's not nice to call people names. Let's have conversations that would make our parents proud and serve our children well. Let's focus on the issues, and own whatever concerns, doubts, and perspectives we hold without resorting to ad hominem attacks. 

Attacking the candidates' supporters is presumptuous, not persuasive. Derogatory stereotyping memes like "Hillbot" or "Berniebot" or "Trumptrash" are divisive and unproductive. Likewise, labeling people as sexist, anti-feminist, naive, delusional, warmongering, fascist, elitist, entitled, ignorant, and/or whatever else comes into angry minds is no way to win friends and influence people. If criticism is truly warranted, let's focus on the behavior, not the person or persons.

Let's talk about the candidates' respective platforms, policies, position statements, experience, expertise, and voting records. Tell me who you're voting for and why without making dismissive, derogatory remarks about other candidates and their supporters. Tell me about the issues that matter to you, the beliefs you hold dear, and how your candidate will represent these. Tell me how your vote will contribute to the world in which you want to live.

Tell me what you stand for, what you dream about, whose interests you serve, and what promises you keep with your one righteous vote. 

Invite me to do the same. We might learn something from each other. We might even be persuaded enough by what we learn to change our minds.