The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Empathy is necessary in political discourse

It is always difficult to have political conversations with family you do not agree with or friends who you do not want to unintentionally burn bridges with.  

However, it is getting harder to talk about politics with others because of polarization in the United States. Recently, I have had a small chat over coffee with a woman in her 70s, and she said, “the gap between the left and the right is as big as it has ever been.”

 Rob Willer, a professor of sociology at Stanford, supports this idea and states liberals and conservatives have grown further apart. 

Moreover, he adds, “They increasingly wall themselves off in these ideological silos, consuming different news, talking only to like-minded others and more and more choosing to live in different parts of the country.”

Knowing this, how can we have healthy political conversations at the dinner table with our families? Or rather, how can we survive unavoidable political conversations, especially after the election season? 

Well, according to Friedrich Nietzsche, “Those who cannot understand how to put their thoughts on ice should not enter into the heat of debate.” In debating politics, it is key you remain cool. There are other ways to refine your skills in political conversation as well.

First, you should know your stuff—keeping up with politics is a full-time job, and there is a high chance that you cannot know all the information about a particular issue or nominee without spending hours researching. 

This means you should expect and be tolerant of different people’s likely “variations” of the truth in any given situation, but it also means that you should be able to accept your own failings when it comes to recognizing the truth.

A second way to improve political conversation is to respect the person you are talking with in the same manner you would like to be respected. In the Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right,” the system of mutual recognition and abstract rights is the basis of morality. 

He adds, “Be a person and respect others as a person.” Before we sit down for a conversation, it is crucial for us to understand even if we may disagree with the person we are going to engage with, they are still a human being with emotions and thoughts. 

Acknowledge that you are discussing ideas, and others might have different opinions. Political discussion does not entitle you to be rude.

Finally, when having these discussions, you should try to find common ground. It does not matter what you are talking about. It is possible to find at least a little common ground in any conversation. If you cannot find it, try to focus on common problems you both share. 

After finding this mutual understanding in the conversation, latch onto it. Speak more about it. This is an excellent opportunity to boost each other’s egos in order to guarantee the rest of the conversation continues in a civil manner. 

In Psychology Today, Joni Johnston states, “It is good to find the common ground, but do not use it show that you are superior.” He also suggests you, “show them that how they feel matters to you, even though you still disagree with them. You will be well on your way to a fruitful discussion.”

In sum, despite the politics, social media, restrictions and everything else working to divide us, we owe it to each other to interact and connect. If you want to have better political conversations, empathy and respect is the way to go.

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Empathy is necessary in political discourse