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How to Debate Politics Without Being a Complete Jerk

How to Debate Politics Without Being a Complete Jerk

The reason it’s so hard to talk about politics nicely is that all politics boils down what rights and privileges you think people should have or not have, and it’s impossible not to take that personally. However, just because it’s difficult, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. Politics affects absolutely everything and so to not talk about it is to not talk about a massive aspect of everyone’s lives.

Whatever your political opinion, everyone should agree that a more informed and more engaged population is a good thing. For that to happen, we need to figure out a way of talking about politics without coming across like screaming lunatics.

1. Don’t Assume Everybody Is Lying

In November 2016, I was travelling around the US with my girlfriend and so we were there in the build up to (and the aftermath of) the 2016 election. Needless to say, politics came up a lot. In hostels filled with young 20-somethings from across the world (albeit, mainly economically developed countries), political arguments bubbled up as people threw facts at each other.

Facts are a vital tool for debate; that much is obvious. Still, like every great tool, they need to be used properly. The temptation is to bombard your fellow interlocutor with the facts that you have so as to bury them with information. You already have an answer to every counter-argument they have with a list of statistics you’ve memorised and you know exactly why you’re right.

Everything is going great until the person you’re talking with pulls up a different fact, from a study you’ve not heard of, and it throws you because it upsets your worldview. The kneejerk reaction is a response that everyone should avoid:

“That’s a lie.”

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I’ve watched this happen. I watched two very intelligent people talk about gun violence in the US, a sensitive topic if ever there was one. The conversation turned into a monologue as the guy closest to me listed a whole bunch of facts he had. The guy sat opposite replied with a very big claim, backed up by another statistic, and so the immediate reaction from the guy sitting next to me was to accuse the other of making something up. The response to that was something I’ll never forget:

“If you’re going to assume I’m lying, then there’s no point in us having this conversation.”

If you ever doubt what someone is saying to you, your job is to research the truth for yourself. It’s true that sometimes people are wrong because they misinterpret information, and sometimes people are wrong because they misremember information. And yes, sometimes people will straight up lie to you.

Still, you have to start each conversation with the assumption that people won’t lie to you. Politely fact-checking is one thing, but assuming someone else is a liar just because you don’t agree with them is quite another.

Society is built on trust. Restaurant owners trust that customers will pay the full amount before leaving; car owners trust that engineers have built sturdy roads and bridges; and debaters need to trust that the other isn’t lying to them. Otherwise, “there’s no point in us having this conversation.”

2. Don’t Assume Everybody Is Telling The Truth

This might seem like a complete contradiction, but it really isn’t. When we’re debating with someone we disagree with, we tend to assume that they’re wrong. When we’re debating with someone we agree with, we tend to assume that they’re right. This is confirmation bias,[1] while it’s something that everyone is guilty of, that doesn’t make it okay.

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When we read the news, we’re often just looking for the information that helps us to confirm our existing beliefs. It requires less mental effort to think, “I am right and they are wrong” than to recognise that the reality is much more nuanced. We tend to fact-check when we think people are lying, but we don’t tend to do it when we think people are telling the truth. What we should be doing is fact-checking indiscriminately. If you give every statistic you agree with the same dose of healthy scepticism that you give every statistic you do agree with, you’ll begin to understand why other people think the way they think.

3. All News Outlets Are Biased (And So Are You)

Bias exists everywhere and news outlets are both the agents of this phenomenon and the victims of it. News outlets are businesses. Imagine you owned a business whose job was to report the events of the day. You would end up expressing your opinion on the news you were reporting even if you tried not to. Every word you choose to use (or not use) and every detail you choose to focus on (or not focus on) reveals your bias. Even if all the words you say are true and all the details you focus on are relevant, your bias is still there.

The idea of “objective” or “neutral” news is a fallacy. Objectivity exists in the realms of physics and mathematics, but the real world (and the language we use to express ourselves in the real world) is too chaotic and fluid to be understood objectively.

In linguistics and computing, this is known as the symbol grounding problem[2] and it’s essentially the reason why we’ve not been able to create consciousness in robots. To simplify, the symbol grounding problem is the notion that no matter how basic you make a symbol, people are still able to disagree about its meaning. Take this symbol, for example:

A large symbol
    What is it?

    Is it the letter “I” or is it the letter “l”? Or is it an image? If so, an image of what? Is it a pole? Is it a building? Is it a road?

    There’s no correct answer. That symbol could be a whole host of things depending on the context or on your point of view. When you realise how difficult it is to get people to agree on what one symbol means, then you can understand why things become problematic when those symbols become words, those words become sentences, and those sentences become political news coverage.

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    4. Be Nice…

    It sounds obvious enough, and yet so much televised political debate features politicians belittling other politicians. From Prime Minister’s questions in the UK to the primary and presidential debates in the US, politicians are bent on insulting each other.

    We all know the reason for this; they’re trying to make the other person look weak in order to gain votes. Evidently, it must work. Otherwise, they wouldn’t keep doing it. But why do we do it? Why do we insult each other when we talk about politics?

    As an unashamed science-fiction fan, I am reminded of an episode of Doctor Who. When trying to stop yet another alien from destroying the planet, he pleads with them: “I just want you to think. Do you know what thinking is? It’s just a fancy word for changing your mind.” When we talk politics, that’s all we’re trying to do deep down. All of the heightened rhetoric, all of the grandstanding, and all of the raised voices: it’s all just to try and get someone else to change their mind.

    In that sense, political debate and marketing is the same thing: the art of persuasion. As someone who works for a digital marketing agency, I have long known that nastiness doesn’t persuade anyone of anything. People don’t choose Coca-Cola over Pepsi because Coca-Cola said that the people who drink Pepsi are idiots who don’t know what’s “really” going on. Rather, Coca-Cola wooed people by talking about their product’s benefits.

    5. But Don’t Mistake “Nice” for “Correct”

    Good marketing is about creating a nice image for a product or service, whereas good political debate should be about a lot more than that. Sometimes this is not the case. Sometimes politicians are charming and polite and extremely courteous to the opposition while also being utterly incorrect. As an informed voter, your job is to see through that.

    By extension, if a friend is being uncharming and impolite and extremely discourteous to you, they might still have a valid point. Don’t rise to their anger, but do engage with their ideas.

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    6. Try Harder

    Debating politics is hard and so most of us avoid it completely. You might think that you’re debating politics because you share something online and then talk about it with your friends. Heck, sometimes you might talk about a story with your friends offline as well. You express your opinion and they express their opinion. That’s debate, right?

    Possibly. Though, chances are, your friends have pretty much the same political views you do. Sure, a few of them might have dissenting views here and there, but most of the time you agree. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be friends.

    Even if this is not the case offline, social media helps to create bubbles[3] which ensure that this is the case online. Facebook, for example, only shows you content from the people and pages that you like and engage with.[4] If you don’t like it or engage with it, it won’t be shown to you. In other words, if you do happen to have a friend who has views that you don’t agree with, you’ll rarely see those views on your Facebook feed.

    The only real solution to this, aside from not using social media, is to engage with the other side. Leap across the political divide rather than settling comfortably into your own biases and simply dismissing the other side as full of crazies. It’s easy enough to throw around the word “extreme” when describing someone’s political views, but they probably don’t see their own views as extreme. To them, you’re the extremist.

    7. “Imagine Others Complexly”

    This is a philosophy created and endorsed by the Vlogbrothers[5] and it’s essential to discussing politics. In order to have better conversations about politics, you need to imagine others complexly. Understand that the process that led someone else to their political opinion is as complicated and nuanced as the process that led you to your political opinion.

    If you manage to do that, alongside everything else I’ve mentioned, let me know how you managed it. You’ll be a bigger and better person than I am for sure. What’s more, you just might be able to debate politics without being a complete jerk.

    Featured photo credit: David Shankbone – Wikimedia Commons via commons.wikimedia.org

    Reference

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    Mitchell Labiak

    Freelance Writer. Digital Marketing Consultant at Exposure Ninja. Vlogger at YouTube.

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    Last Updated on June 18, 2019

    40 Ways to Achieve Peace Of Mind and Inner Calm

    40 Ways to Achieve Peace Of Mind and Inner Calm

    Do you have racing thoughts and find yourself constantly worrying? An anxious mind is truly distressing.

    The good news is, there’re simple things you can do to calm your thought.

    If you want to achieve peace of mind and inner calm, try these 40 simple powerful ways:

    1. Listen to Music

    Studies have found that relaxing music can help kids with ADHD to be calmer and focus. But it doesn’t matter what genre of music you want to listen to, as long as you enjoy it and it makes you feel relaxed.

    Music is food for the soul and an instant way to gain peace of mind.

    2. Deep Breathing

    When you focus on your breathing, your mind’s attention is drawn to the life-enhancing process of drawing in air and exhaling.

    Take five long, deep breaths and focus on your lungs and diaphragm as you do this. This is a quick and easy way to instantly feel calm.

    Here’re also 5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly).

    3. Go for a Walk

    Getting out in the fresh air can do you a world of good and promote peace of mind. Take a break and get the blood pumping – especially when the sun is shining.

    4. Enjoy Nature

    Too much concrete is never a good thing. Spending time in nature can actually make you feel younger, happier. Here’s why.

    Spend time away from the city. Listen to the birds singing and enjoy the peace and tranquility.

    5. Play with a Pet

    Having a pet to play with is a great way to de-stress. Touch is a powerful sense and can ease tension and promote peace of mind.

    6. Declutter

    Have regular clear-outs. Clutter can add to feelings of tension and a clean, clear home allows a clearer, more peaceful mind.

    Take a look at this article and learn How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster.

    7. Acceptance

    Acceptance is crucial for peace of mind. Accepting that there are few guarantees in the world and learning to tolerate uncertainty is a huge leap in the peace-of-mind stakes. Differentiate between what you can and cannot control.

    8. Mindfulness

    When we are mindful, we are fully present in the moment and acutely aware of our five senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell.

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    Engage your senses. This leaves less time for your mind to worry and think about “what ifs.”

    Here you can learn about The Power of Mindfulness.

    9. Self Love

    The more we like ourselves, the greater our peace of mind. We accept ourselves more and feel at ease in the world, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. We experience less insecurity and as a result, our inner peace is heightened.

    Start trying these 30 Ways To Practice Self-Love And Be Good To Yourself.

    10. Be True to You

    This is another vital component of peace of mind. When we practice congruency, we behave similarly to the way we feel and think. When the way we see ourselves and the way the world sees us is the same, we are practicing congruency.

    Problems arise when we see ourselves one way (for example, as a loving mother) but behave in ways that are at odds with how we would like to see ourselves (for example, neglect our children because we are too busy). Finding ways to keep our inner ideals and the way we behave similar is one of the keys to peace of mind.

    Find out How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want.

    11. Sense of Humor

    Laugh a lot. The world is instantly a better place when you can see the funny side of life. Laughter is a great antidote for stress and releases hormones that help us relax.

    12. Love Unconditionally

    When you don’t expect anything back, it makes it easier to love without fear. When we love with conditions attached, our unmet expectations can create inner turmoil and feelings of resentment. Insecurities destroy peace of mind.

    13. Go for Regular Health Checks

    It pays to keep checks on your health and look after yourself. Letting ourselves go can indicate a lack of self-respect, and this in turn will affect the way we see the world and the way others interact with us. Be kind to yourself and make the most of what you have.

    14. Take Stock

    Every now and then, it’s a good idea to check whether you’re happy with the quality of your life. Do you like your job? Your relationship? Are you on the right track? Make adjustments if necessary to restore peace of mind.

    15. Have Goals

    This ties in with number 14. Goals keep us going in the right direction and give us a sense of purpose. Make your goals SMART: How to Set SMART Goal to Make Lasting Changes in Life

    16. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

    This relates to number 11. Learn to be more flexible in your approach to life. The more rigid our thinking is, the easier it is to experience situations that contradict our rigid ideas.

    17. Live in the Moment

    Instead of worrying about the past or panicking about the future, really enjoy the NOW. It’s all we have — this moment in time.

    When we live in the present, the concerns of the past and future can’t worry us.

    Here’re some tips on How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future.

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    18. Worry Less

    We apparently have somewhere between 30,000 – 75,000 thoughts per day, of which 80% are random “nonsense.”

    Learn to “shelve” worrying by reminding yourself that most of your worries are unproductive and remove any chance of peace of mind.

    Some advice for you who worry often: How to Worry Less: 90% of What You Fear Won’t Happen

    19. Be Assertive

    You have as much right to be here and to have an opinion as anyone else. When we become passive or submissive, we do ourselves a disservice.

    Being assertive isn’t about your needs ahead of others (aggressive) or their needs ahead of yours (passive). Rather, it is about compromise —  a “win-win” situation.

    Learn How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way.

    20. Speak Your Mind

    Don’t be afraid to say what you’re thinking. This goes hand in hand with being assertive.

    Ask for what you want in life. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

    21. Enjoy “Me-Time”

    Time out is important. A little bit of selfish time to treat yourself or do exactly as you please sets you up for taking on the constant demands of life. Balance in life is crucial.

    22. Frolic

    The free online dictionary describes the word “frolic” as:

    “To behave playfully and uninhibitedly; romp.”

    All work and no play will stress anyone out. Make time for things you enjoy. Try to inject fun into situations that aren’t particularly enjoyable. Approach life with a playful attitude. When did you last let the child in you come out to play?

    23. Let It Go

    There are some things that you just cannot change, no matter how hard you try. Know when to cut your losses and detach (Just like Elsa does!)

    When you start to let go of your past, these 10 things will happen.

    24. Resist Guilt

    Guilt is a negative emotion that removes peace of mind. Although it can motivate us (in the wrong way), it is still a toxic emotion.

    Challenge the reasons for your guilt to make sure you aren’t placing unnecessary pressure on yourself.

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    25. Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude

    Focusing on all the things in our lives that we are grateful for promotes peace of mind and reminds us that there are always positives. Sometimes we just have to nudge our awareness.

    Try these 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude.

    26. See Failure as a Learning Curve

    Failure has such negative connotations, but actually, everyone fails. How can you improve or learn anything if you never fail?

    A healthy attitude towards failure encourages bravery. It’s not you that is the failure, instead it is what you tried that failed. There is a big difference.

    27. Connect with Others

    One of the true joys of life is sharing life with others and knowing that others “get” you. We feel less alone and feeling understood allows a fantastic sense of well-being.

    28. Test Your Limits

    You’ll never know your true potential if you always stay in your comfort zone. As the old saying goes, it is better to look back and regret what you did than regret all those things you wish you’d tried.

    Learn to step out of your comfort zone: 10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Overcome Your Fear

    29. Find Positive Outlets for Negative Emotions

    Sports, online forums, like-minded people, hobbies…whatever takes your fancy. Suppressing negative emotions can lead to ill health. Release tension and frustration in a pro social way and feel a whole lot happier.

    30. Slow Down

    Why does everything need to be accomplished today? Often, we place unrealistic pressure on ourselves when there is no need to.

    Challenge your impatience, be mindful and enjoy life in the moment.

    31. Challenge Your “Shoulds” and “Musts”

    Self-induced pressure never leads to inner tranquility or peace of mind. Replace “should” with “could” and live life more on your own terms.

    32. Be Kind

    It’s free and it makes a difference. When we show kindness, it gives us an inner boost, too.

    You can try these 29 Ways to Carry Out Random Acts of Kindness Every Day.

    33. Don’t Compare

    The more we compare, the more we lose ourselves.

    Forget what everyone else is doing or saying. What do YOU want? We all have our own paths to follow, and we are all learning and going through life at our unique pace.

    Focus on your own journey and lose the stress of comparing yourself to what you think is going on in the lives of others. This is a surefire way to eliminate peace of mind.

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    34. Affirmations

    Talk to yourself positively by using affirmations. A good example of one that encourages peace of mind is: “No matter what comes my way, I will find a way to get through it.”

    Believe in yourself and remind yourself regularly that you will be okay.

    Need some more inspirations to affirm yourself? Here’re 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life.

    35. Save a Little Money as Often as You Can

    Putting money aside is always a good idea. If you can afford to save money regularly, do it. Start up a regular debit each month, and you won’t even realize it’s gone.

    36. Less Is More

    Money buys choice, but it doesn’t buy us the happiness we crave. Be content with the simpler things in life — that’s where the real long-lasting joy and peace of mind comes from.

    37. Perspective

    Always  keep your eye on the bigger picture. Will you feel this way next week, or a year from now? Will your current experience of life seem as important?

    More often than not, you will be just fine. Foster peace of mind by maintaining perspective in life.

    38. Monitor Your Thoughts

    Our thoughts can make or break our quality of life. Make sure to choose thinking that works for you.

    Talk to yourself as you would a best friend. Self-loathing serves no purpose and will undoubtedly extract joy from your life.

    39. Stand up for What You Believe In

    Whether it’s protecting animals or helping those less fortunate than yourself, follow your heart and your passion. Fight the urge to fit in and do what’s expected.

    When you change yourself to suit others, you give away your peace of mind.

    40. Get Enough Sleep

    When we’re tired and grumpy, nothing goes smoothly. Get eight hours of sleep per night and regenerate your body.

    Final Thoughts

    The most important ways to achieve peace of mind involve being true to yourself, accepting that life is uncertain and watching your thinking. Many of us mentally “torture” ourselves daily with the things we tell ourselves.

    Trust your thoughts less, pay less attention to the negative ones and focus on what you are thankful for in life, and you’ll be well on your way to inner peace of mind.

    Featured photo credit: sean Kong via unsplash.com

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