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Though my journey of self expression has taken many forms, an early theme was about that angrier I can voice an opinion the better is the point I’ll be making and the more it will shock and hopefully resonate with people. For a while, screaming, attacking, belittling the other seemed to be the only way I could get my point across.
Maybe my younger-self needed such a tone to gain confidence, build an ego, assert the progressive nature of the ideas that connected with me amongst all the conservative-leaning noise around me. That must’ve been such an energy consuming endeavor that alienated me slowly and without a formal decision away from conservative circles, whether extended family or the occasional water cooler conversations, even to old friends I marked as not-progressive-enough. As learning seemed only something I can conceive from like-minded people I kept surrounding myself with over the years. I even had people grouped in Facebook according to lists, so I can either avoid them or more so they don’t read my posts that often.
Then the Arab Spring came along in 2011, that’s when I think I started to open things up a bit and have more of those angry conversations all over again, this time about liberty, dictatorships and freedom. I came to realize that some of the cool people I hung out with over the years, were very conservative politically despite the social liberal lives they lead. Big surprise. I saw how the fear of the potential chaos made many people weary of the protests, their initial success and the general fear of the big monster to all social liberals, the Muslim Brotherhood. I remember it was very hard to adjust, there was a big split between those who identified as liberals at the time. I had very interesting conversations non-the-less. However, the years that followed had me think that for someone who wants to change the world -somehow- I’d better focus on what I came to call circles of influence around me and I realized that that angry, confrontational, attacking discourse had to change if I wanted people who thought different to listen to what I was saying or questioning, whether they change their mind or not was no longer the purpose of having the conversation.
The new purpose of having conversations then became centered around trying to expand my understanding of a particular issue while at the same time poking questions whenever I sense a preconception. Framing my approach within the following four principles has been helping me have argumentative conversations that result in a mutually better understanding for both parties, one that we can both own rather than win or lose.
Am I really curious to listen to the answer or am I just asking a question to shoot a pre-prepared answer I am dying to communicate? Am I curious to better understand the view the other person has? Why not ask them why they think this or that way?
Am I sincere in wanting to better my understanding? Am I capable of maintaining sincerity even when I hear a statement I don’t like?
Do I genuinely think I know better? Am I trying to share my understanding or preach?
Can I empathize with the person’s own experience? Do I think I am better or that I had it better? Does that decrease my confidence to argue or makes me want to learn rather than do an inquisition? Do I respect the other person’s experience and their right to form their conclusions no matter how far it feels from my own?
The trend today, globally if I may conclude is the widening divide, the mistrust, the zero-sum strategies and tactics and how xenophobia is expanding everywhere. I really hope I get better at this by time, because I feel we all need to have better conversations along this divide between left and right, liberal and conservative, secular and religious, nationalist and internationalist, and whatever divide comes at us next.