Our next presidential election is five seasons away but it seems that it’s always the political season. And in the political season, there are lots of potential situations where we can find ourselves getting into debates, whether we seek them out or they find us. Most of us would like to keep goodwill among others and I’ve been asked to give a few words about how to do that. So I’ve come up with Dan’s Five Rules for Staying Calm.
The first three rules are meant to be a check on ourselves and what’s going on within us. If we don’t start a conversation with a calm approach, odds are it won’t go well. The last two rules concern how we outwardly react and verbalize to others. Hopefully they can help us minimize antagonizing others. So without further ado, here are my five rules:
- Know your bubble.
Like tends to seek like and we all live in bubbles. We tend to associate with folks like us and who think like us. In fact, it’s really easy to lose track of the notion that our conventional wisdom, as we see it, is not always the same as it may be in other bubbles. Further, lived experiences vary from individual to individual and from bubble to bubble. In my view, it’s important to stay aware of that.
2. Beware of the visceral reaction.
It’s one thing to trust one’s gut after having had an opportunity to think about things. But our immediate reaction to things is almost always purely emotional and devoid of prudence or reason. If my kid gets called for a foul in basketball, I immediately see that as a horrible call. Except that it’s not a horrible call. I just react as if it were. It’s best to not verbalize at all until my mental bacteria have had a chance to digest the thought meal.
3. Always question factual basis.
We tend to emotionally invest ourselves in arguments and positions. That emotional investment carries a high cost inside of us and exposes us to criticism and embarrassment if it turns out we are wrong. One way to avoid this problem is to beware of folks making arguments premised on facts they do not know to be true. This is especially important when we are inclined to agree with those arguments. Our friends don’t always know what they are passionately talking about.
Cable TV news, traditional media, comedians and others are in business and make money from generating a following, not from depth or substance or, even truth. Social media expresses visceral reactions and tends to be compressed into hashtags that don’t allow for proper nuance. And that’s before taking trolling into account. There is no reason why we need to accept any of it at face value, even when it feels right to us.
We would also do well to first question our own presumed facts before trying persuade others about things. I’ve turned out to be wrong about presumed facts so many times. It’s embarrassing when I learn of my error. And it should be.
4. Avoid lumping individuals into categories.
Lumping individuals into categories tends to dehumanize them. Sure, we all do it at times because it’s an easy way to manage our thoughts about others. But it’s unfair to any given individual and our categorization is often false. Further, our assumptions about folks in the categories we’ve assigned them are often false. See Rule 3 above.
It’s also manipulative of me to verbalize my categorization of folks because I’m making them either defend a category or try to argue that they don’t belong in it. And telling folks that they are in a certain category also distracts from the issue being discussed. At that point, discussion will be diffuse and not engaged. If we are trying to discuss anything with anyone, a sure route to an unproductive conversation is to put someone on the defensive.
5. Don’t be a cat.
We all know of the red laser dot thing. Shining a red laser dot drives cats bonkers and they can’t resist chasing. Don’t be a cat and fall for the laser dot chase. The dot is not real and we can’t catch it.
There is no law of God nor any human rule that requires us to even have opinions, much less express them. Not every issue that another person is emotionally invested in is worth making our own emotional investment. Further, a whole lot of chasing around comes from deliberate attempts to bait us. It’s ok to not chase. In fact, it’s often better to go for a walk, call a friend, check the oil in the car or go fishing. Much of what causes angst in political discussion was never worth it in the first place.
Copyright July 23, 2019 by Daniel Blake