A Survival Guide for Uncertain Times Week 2: Communicate
“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.” — Mother Teresa
A few weeks ago, I attended the New York City Women’s March. When I got home, I received a call from a friend who voted for Donald Trump. He felt the Women’s March was divisive and portrayed those who had voted for Donald Trump as horrible people. He said he was not a horrible person simply because he voted for Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton. He told me he had seen on the news signs from the march that proclaimed, “He is not my president,” and “Dump Trump.” He heard a clip from Madonna in Washington, DC that he found violent and upsetting. I tried to express to him how wonderful the March was for me and how the people at these marches care about important issues facing the world today. But my friend could only focus on the negatives he has seen on the news.
As I lay awake in bed that night, I felt overwhelmed that my relationship with this dear old friend had become so argumentative. The next day I called him back. The first thing I said was, “Donald Trump is President of the United States. I don’t want to discuss the election and I just want to focus on what is happening today. Let’s talk facts.”
As the discussion continued, the things my friend said to me sounded like a string of Fox News sound bites. I probably sounded to him like a tape of MSNBC sound bites! Again, we were getting nowhere. My friend and I took a pause. We each agreed that we would research the following issues: refugees, the economy and education, and we would have another discussion in a few days. We also agreed we would carefully read President Trump’s Executive Orders.
I did my homework. When I spoke to my friend a few days later, it was not easy for either of us. Yet with deep breathing, a lot of disagreement and a lot of self-control, I discovered that my friend “the Trump Supporter” is a strong believer in public education and is not supportive of Trump’s cabinet pick Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. I agreed that we should fix infrastructure and create new manufacturing jobs and we both agreed there was no plan to do that in place to date. He was unable to convince me of the merit of any of Trump’s Executive Orders thus far, but I am committed to keep speaking with him. I am sincerely hoping that I will have the opportunity to support some issues that Donald Trump is advocating for in the future.
In one of our conversations, I convinced my friend who voted for President Trump to write a letter to Chuck Schumer asking him to vote against the nomination of Betsy DeVos. It might seem like a minor act to some, but it was a huge movement for us in bridging the divide on an issue we both care about.
From my experiences this week, here are some communication tips for our Age of Uncertainty:
1. A New Tactic. Sharing views in conversation that Donald Trump “should not be president” or walking around with “Dump Trump” signs is a waste of time. It is divisive and gives Donald Trump, his administration and supporters a distraction, allowing them to talk about how “the progressives have not accepted the election results” instead of focusing on the details of Trump’s Executive Orders. You will never have a productive conversation with anyone who supports Donald Trump using this tactic. Divisiveness and constant chaos can only affect very limited change. We must continue to find ways to bring people into the conversation while we keep fighting for the things we believe in.
2. Know the facts. Most of us don’t know enough about the issues that we’re passionate about. We might not be reciting “alternative facts” and false narratives, but most of us could do better. How many of us knew the filibuster rules in the Senate had been changed in 2013? How many of us know how President Trump’s Executive Order banning travel from seven countries differs from President Obama’s Executive Order in 2011 regarding travel from Iraq? If you don’t know the facts, people will run circles around you. This goes for Trump supporters as well. We all need to read real statistics, look for sources on government websites, get a copy of the constitution, and read the laws and executive orders themselves. I have created a fact book on my computer. Every day I cut and paste pieces of articles, laws and orders into my book and cite sources. I refer to it often and I would not hesitate to take it to a meeting or discussion. Especially if we have to argue against alternative facts or fake news, we must do our best to be educated.
3. Improve your listening skills. Take your turn talking with people that oppose your ideas and be willing to listen even if you don’t agree. One of my friends and I use a talking stick when we get together to make sure we don’t interrupt each other. I also practice patience and tolerance by listening in on CSPAN to members in the House of Representatives who have opposing views to mine. I feel myself getting uncomfortable and angry as I watch, but I breathe through it and try to stay calm. Of course, if any conversation we are part of becomes insulting, racist or offensive in any way, let us call it for what is and leave. If you can stay with the conversation, try to calmly explain why the other person’s views are not acceptable to you. I find that deep breathing when another person is speaking helps. Sometimes massaging my own hands keeps me from interrupting. If you have the patience to listen, you may find you agree on some issues.
4. Stick to Specific Issues.There are so many events, petitions and marches on specific issues. Try to invite one of your friends who voted for Trump to participate with you. Also, allow yourself to participate in events held by people with opposite views. No one should feel alienated. It is so important that we stick to specific issues at these events and not make personal attacks. My friends and I are considering hosting our own town hall to discuss issues with diverse opinions. I will let you know if we do it and how it goes.
Yes, there is a lot of change happening. Many of our days are filled with protests, legal actions and letter writing. But we also need to keep trying to unite people by sticking to the issues. The truth is that we have more power and influence with politicians and policymakers when we try to communicate and find consensus. The news media keeps telling us how divided we are, but most of us share many common interests. Most of us want our families to be safe and healthy, our children to have opportunity and the air we breathe to be clean. It will be very hard to solve certain problems in areas like education, healthcare and the environment if half the country digs in its heels and we stop trying to find good solutions together. I am not saying that we can always budge on issues that are important to us, but we must try to move the conversation away from being just “for or against” Trump. We need to continue to find support from as many people as possible to unite this country for lasting change.
I hope you took some deep breaths this week. Keep trying to take big and small actions on issues you want to change. Everything matters. If something doesn’t go the way you plan, embrace Maybe (read my blog from last week for the Maybe mindset) and keep trying.
I’ll be back to check in with tips for you next week!
Originally Posted in Psychology Today