A Guide to Meaningful Political Discussions

Our discussions miss their target. Here is a guide for real results.

Louis Petrik
Sep 3, 2020 · 5 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Sushil Nash on Unsplash

he political culture in the West is currently very charged.
Debates are conducted in an emotional, unrelated, and offensive manner, and in many discussions, one has the feeling that the only goal is about exposing the other person.

But sometimes the offensive behavior also leads to you opening your cover too wide — and making a fool of yourself.

You can see it everywhere. There are thousands of results on YouTube if you search for compilations in which people are owned, destroyed, and triggered.
No matter what political spectrum they come from.

But it’s pretty sad to watch

The many videos, of which some show entire discussions, but mostly excerpts, are only focused on presenting individual missteps by the discussants.

Highly complex topics are broken down to the two hardened fronts, and often it is no longer about the concrete contents — but about individual arguments, and how they were made, and how they get ridiculed.

For the commentary section among these videos, the one that has exposed his political enemy has won — and many participants in the discussion expose themselves.

In this article, I discuss how we can have discussions that can really make a difference without exposing ourselves or others.

Being right does not necessarily mean winning.

What I understand as a won discussion — to convey a new point of view in an understandable way to my opponent. Anything else would be pointless.

If you are only out to expose others, this often only hardens the fronts further. Admissions are made even less; the anger of the other side grows.

Even if you objectively have better arguments, it does not mean that they will be accepted as such. Especially not if you treat yours with disrespect — why should he be more willing to accept your point?

Neglect Your Political Camp

Most of us can certainly assign ourselves to a larger political camp.

Be it a philosophical school like the Austrian school of economics, a party like the democrats or republicans, a political/social system like the monarchy, socialism, or grassroots democracy. Perhaps quite simply, in which direction they fit in politically — Conservative, Progressive, Liberal, and so on.

So most of us can assign ourselves to one or perhaps several camps, but if we are honest, it is usually not a clear decision. Even within the most specific political camps, such as parties, there are vast differences of opinion.

We are generally prejudiced about such camps. And whenever someone reveals himself to be a follower of a certain camp, we like to associate this with all the positions we reject ourselves.

Your political camp just doesn’t matter. Only the concrete political position you want to represent in a discussion does.

This way, you can avoid prejudices, deviations from the topic, further rejection, and incomprehension.

Finally, your political personality is far too complex to be expressed meaningfully by belonging to a political camp.

Questions Instead of Statements

One of the most common reasons why people embarrass themselves in political discussions is that they immediately make their position clear — Partly in a much too general way.

I am against abortion; I am for drug legalization, taxes are robbery, white privilege does not exist — good examples of general and offensive statements.

Even though they are very clear, these statements make us very vulnerable. If we say, for example, that we are against abortion in general, our opponent is now back in action. And he will try to find the scenario that he thinks we should be in favor of abortion, at least in this one scenario.

Even if he finds one and we still disagree with it, he may attack us for our alleged motives behind it, implying ignorance. Unfortunately for us, our opponent may be quite familiar with the subject of rape and subsequent pregnancies. Now he can attack us from his comfort zone.

Even if we row back after our generalized statement, this is anything but good. Although it actually shows a lot of courage, our opponent, maybe even the audience, will from now on regard us as unbelievable.

If you are sitting across from someone who has just rowed back, you should not attack them for it.
Instead, it would be best if you praised your opponent for it, the more you increase your sympathies, the less likely it is that he will attack you clumsily.
It also makes it easier for him to confess — and that’s what you want him to do.

My recommendation is, therefore, to always ask questions, this way, you can get to know the opponent’s position without having a typical “I never said that” afterward.

Besides, you don’t even have to row back because you didn’t make a clear statement. Instead, you’re only interested in the motives of your counterpart.

The last advantage is that you can give your opponent the space to explain his opinion. This way, he is less likely to put himself in an emotional attack or defensive posture, but rather can move forward.

How this can be used to take action

You still have not revealed your point of view? Very good.
But you would like to intervene slowly and make an argument? No problem.

The trick is to express your point of view through something or someone else.

Instead of saying “no, I see it this way and that way,” you can go a little further: “Interesting point, but there is also politician x who once said y. What do you think about that?”

This way, you do not reveal your position, but you can actively influence the opinion of the other.

Positive side effect: Especially if you take up the opinion and justification of a famous idea, party, study, or personality, it is not unlikely that your political opponent has already had to deal with it.

So there will be fewer misunderstandings, he might already have an answer, and depending on the source, there may be facts now in the discussion.

Draw Attention to Common Interests

Nowadays, when two different parties are discussing with each other, it seems like different worlds colliding & causing a huge bang.

The funny thing is that most political camps have the same fundamental interests. Only the approach to achieving these goals is different.

Example:

People who tend to be economically libertarian are often of the opinion that tax cuts will increase prosperity.

People who tend to be left-wing oriented are often of the opinion that the tax on the rich increases wealth.

Neither party has any interest whatsoever in anyone being bitterly poor. Only their approaches to ensuring general prosperity are different.

As I said before, many discussions are very charged because they contain prejudices and ideological beliefs about our opponent. Interestingly enough, these reservations can usually be overcome relatively quickly.

Do not interrupt anyone.

It’s really not difficult. You only speak when you really have the feeling that it’s your turn, or when you are told.

No matter in what context of communication, interrupting someone is always inappropriate. It will only lead to a more tense situation, and your counterpart may even come out of the flow of speech.

You want others to hear you out, so hear everyone else out. After all, a better point of view is supposed to win afterward and not the one that has best kept the other person from arguing.
If someone interrupts you, you should address this immediately.

Interjections with single words also count as interruptions.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse.

Thanks to D&D Editorial Team

Louis Petrik

Written by

Finances, Programming & Psychology. Figuring out life, one idea at a time.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Louis Petrik

Written by

Finances, Programming & Psychology. Figuring out life, one idea at a time.

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store