Let's try to talk with, not past, each other

Let's try to talk with, not past, each other

When did we forget how to negotiate a difference of opinion? That it was OK to even have one? Why is dialogue so often replaced by diatribe?

In workplaces, on football field sidelines, especially on social media and the nightly news, it often seems that the art of diplomacy has fallen by the wayside.

Whether it's thoughts on the politics of COVID-19 or that most-polarising figure of our times, Donald Trump, so many people are talking past - rather than with - each other.

So much discord, so much division of things into simplistic camps of "us" and "them".

Now, there's nothing wrong with respectful, well-reasoned and healthy debate.

Discussion that's honest (and worthwhile) will sometimes see people fall on different sides.

But so much of what seems to pass as public discourse is neither respectful nor well-reasoned ... and much of it is decidedly unhealthy.

Many people no longer engage in reasoning as much as they spew the talking points that align with their particular ideals.

Why has this shift taken place?

The rise of populist politics - often including the false promise of unworkably black and white solutions to complex problems - is probably a factor.

So is the example provided by an obvious decline in the quality of political debate and accountability - from presidents and prime ministers down.

As the late Hunter S Thompson is said to have once remarked: "Politics used to attract the best and brightest; now it attracts the dumbest and meanest."

Diminishing trust in institutions that have failed us - such as the government, church and media - has also contributed to a sense of scepticism and distrust.

Of course, unhealthy debate is something that's made worse by the impersonal nature of social media. Interactions with trolls (or even relatives) on your Twitter or Facebook feed is enough to confirm this.

Ultimately, a lot of it comes down to empathy. Whichever side of an issue they stand, many people don't care to understand why someone else thinks the way they do; they just want to prove that they are right.

Reverend CJ Rhodes of Alcorn State University in the US recently observed: "One of the reasons dialogue has devolved in our times is that too many of us are concerned with debating ideologies than engaging individuals.

"We dehumanise groups and persons with whom we disagree, making it easier to tear them down rather than build together."

Instead, we'd do well to remember that people can be wrong (just as we can).

That, sometimes, it takes a while to grow and accept new information - especially the type that challenges long-held beliefs.

Of course, there's times we face someone who is belligerent or who will not budge no matter how much proof is put before them.

But even then, nothing is really gained by belittling them. If you cause them to further get their back up, you've likely lost any chance to reason.

That's my opinion, anyway. Feel free to disagree with it if you wish!

Matt Crossman is an ACM journalist.