What is the art of mediating? Politics and social developments are red-hot topics with the potency to divide family members and spread dispute.
Too often do we see debates – even of the most eminent world leaders – being reduced to name-calling and nitpicking the other side’s failure instead of efficiently searching for a solution.
Such an approach will lead us to progress and prosperity by no means. How to engage in a productive discussion or mediating a discourse between two opposing sides?
You’ll find these few tips and methods productive not only in the auditorium but also in everyday life.
Apple of Discord
The meaning of dialogue is to persuade. Yet, finding the synthesis between two contrary claims requires an attitude that many of us simply forget about.
Mediating a debate, or even a simple conversation between people on opposing sides isn’t an easy task. The core of the problem – the heart of the divide – is in our hidden prejudices.
Politics divide people – even families – and oftentimes give birth to stereotypes. It’s not uncommon for one side to see the other side as “crazy” or “unpatriotic.”
The demonisation of those we disagree with and attaching simplistic characteristics to entire electorates has no other name but bias. For instance in the US, the left-right dispute has been polarised for the last couple of decades, and the trend spreads to other countries as well.
First of all, it would be very much in order to acknowledge each other’s good intentions.
The paramount difference lies within the values that one sees as more important. Liberals tend to value freedom and tolerance, while Conservatives prefer order and tradition – this division is quite widespread in modern democratic states.
Ipso facto, neither of these attitudes is substantially wrong or bad; both of them are rather essential in the 21st Century, it’s all about which ones we put on the first place.
The Impact of Social Media
Name-calling has become so ubiquitous that it’s barely noticeable in politics today. Taking a glance at the recent Trump-Biden debate, there was no doubt that both sides found it troublesome to focus on political notions rather than their opponent’s negative traits. Hurling insults won’t bring us any closer to a better world.
Furthermore, due to the rapid outspread of social media and the alleged “internet anonymity,” it’s easier to engage in a debate in the comments section or on Twitter.
Nobody would be surprised to hear that these online discussions aren’t the epitome of mediation and mutually-respectful dialogue. At the same time, we close ourselves in homogenous-opinion ecosystems online.
The way social media algorithms work – show us things we are likely to like or agree with – makes it rarer to come across someone of a different perspective online. And when it does happen, infrequently is it not a name-calling competition.
Even on television, we’re more likely to watch a news channel that supports the claims we are already in favour of. Obviously, the other side’s news channels are propagandist, one may say.
The inability to open oneself to other points-of-view isn’t in the least helpful.
Moreover, studies show that – contrary to the common belief that personality traits cause people to develop certain opinions – “humans are, at heart, political animals” and that our psychology and politics are deeply hard-wired for such disputes, having the same genetic core as personality.
Insulting and shame don’t help. How then can we engage in a productive discussion? What should you have in mind when approaching the apple of discord?
Ways to Find Dialogue
Leading a conversation between two people who disagree ought to be a crucial skill not only for journalists but also for managers and team leaders. As a matter of fact, mastering the art of mediating would be quite useful in our daily lives too. In her TED talk, Eve Pearlman elaborates on ‘dialogue journalism’ – a form of mediating that goes against the animosity we know too well.
First and foremost, seeing fellow human beings in our political opponents is a good start. The pre-assumed prejudices about our interlocutors prevent us from seeing them as individuals – somebody’s children, parents, friends, colleagues.
Emotional connection to certain political notions is a great hurdle on our way to discuss ideas freely. To counter this obstacle, we should supply facts rather than opinions. Besides, dialogue needs structure.
It’s a process that requires a slower pace, in stark opposition to timely news that depends on our emotional reactions. Taking our time to think things through and let the excitement simmer down is undoubtedly crucial in both taking part in and mediating a dialogue.
As Pearlman says, “democracy depends on our ability to address our shared problems together.” In psychology, establishing a shared reality – an area of general agreement – is paramount when establishing social bonds. Finding common ground in political dialogue is a fine strategy to start with when engaging in a debate.
Our society is based on liberalism and democracy, and there might indeed be points more we agree upon than what we find debatable. Genuine communication takes practice and self-awareness, and a real connection is what democracy needs. Is there a way to instill such attitude in the roots of education?
Adding empathy and curiosity in dialogue from the very beginning of education would help us educate our kids to grow up to be productive debaters. Most challengingly, this would entail vast amounts of humility and the realisation that we actually might be wrong.
School formal debating competitions, as we could see in the film The Great Debaters, is one of the ways we can teach children to defy the political climate and learn how to mediate and take part in a political discussion. In those championships, it’s the least personal argument that wins.
Separating ideas from the identity of the person discussing it helps us exchange views without the name-calling horror. Attacking a person instead of the substance of debate is regretfully a common thing, yet something we should aim to avoid at all costs.
Events like the International Youth Summer School can also be another brick to educating our children in the art of mutually-respectful dialogue.
Ego to the side – let’s teach our kids to listen to each other’s ideas despite bias and to the advantage of their community. In their future, such skills will doubtlessly turn out for their own good.
During the 2020 Summer School in Reykjavik, for instance, the participants could expand their understanding of the dependencies between city and society, the issues of management, or the innovations in entrepreneurship.
Ceaselessly deepening our understanding of our culture, enriching our knowledge, and being open to adverse perspectives is essential to keep up-to-date with the ever-changing landscape of contemporary politics.
By trying to take an objective look through the riddance of emotional luggage and prejudice, we can attempt to form platforms open to the exchange of ideas and help society evolve.
To disagree productively, let us drop bias and acknowledge the human in our political opponent. Be it mediating a debate, taking part in a formal discussion, or conversing freely during a family gathering, the art of dialogue should be at the forefront of our minds.
We, humans, are political creatures, whose views are incessantly developing through our experiences and along with personality.
Teaching the craft of debating to children maybe just one of the ways of creating a better future together – not despite, but beyond our differences and disagreements.
What do you think about meditating?
Make sure you don’t go down the rabbit hole with this one:
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