I promised last week that I would take a more in depth look at the discussion styles of my 8th grade students. If you didn’t read last weeks post, this will probably still make sense, but I really recommend reading it, primarily because I think it’s incredible how well these 12-14 year olds handled conversations that adults seem to just shout about.
All that said, there are really a few key points to discussions that I think they really modeled in the classroom that we would all, myself certainly included, benefit from making a part of our face to face and internet conversations.
- Be Humble: It’s probably a good idea here to identify what being humble means. A lot of people seem to think that humility means belittling yourself or pretending other people are better than you. That couldn’t be much further from the truth. Humility is an accurate assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. How, then, does this factor into a conversation with someone who has a different opinion than ours? Well, on the obvious (hopefully) side, remember that you are not an omniscient being. When we were talking about same sex marriage as a right, for example, one student said something to the effect of, “I just don’t understand why two people who love each other wouldn’t be able to marry.” First of all, let’s look at the statement itself. This is an acknowledgement of their opinion and their limited understanding. They didn’t suggest it as a universal standpoint, just their own. When another student talked about the Church’s ideas of marriage as being procreative and unitive(I’ll gladly go more into that another time), the first student didn’t change their mind, but they did change their statement. It became, “I guess I see that, but it still seems odd to me.” Remember, you don’t know everything, and, therefore, you may, MAY, not be right. I know, it’s a shock. It’s true, though. If you aren’t open to the possibility that the other person may be right and you wrong, then you aren’t actually talking with them, you’re talking at them. There is, absolutely, a time and place for preaching, but be honest about it. Don’t lie and claim you’re treating them like an equal if you actually view it as a student-teacher interaction. That said, don’t abandon your position out of some false deference to theirs. Remember that you, too, are an intelligent, rational being capable of thought.
- Ask A Lot Of Questions: We all know how annoying it is when somebody misunderstands our opinions or our reasons behind them. So, why in the world do we do it to others? In order to avoid that, ask a lot of questions. Instead of telling people what they think and why their wrong, you’ll be amazed at how powerful it is when you ask them to explain their beliefs. It’s a good idea to clarify their points, asking them if you’ve stated their position correctly, but telling them that saying X means they REALLY believe Y will rarely, if ever, go over well. The other thing this does is that it forces you to re-humanize these people who you disagree with. Assuming, of course, that you actually listen to their points and not just waiting for some buzz word to pounce on with your undeniable counter-point, then you will likely hear points that, while not convincing you to change your mind, lead you to say, “Ok, I can kind of see that.” I was more shocked than any other time during the conversation about immigration when they continued asking question after question. In the interest of disclosure, the school I teach at is largely Latino/Hispanic in its population, so the devil’s advocate side of this question was largely handled by myself. When discussing why people would be so opposed to the idea of amnesty policies, or in favor of building walls, or any of the other standard questions, they listened attentively as I explained that often the arguments are based in race, but in questions of economic concerns and questions of legality. Again, I doubt minds were changed(nor was I intending to), but students who know people affected immediately and directly by immigration policies responded not with angry cries of racism, but instead with further questions and thoughtful consideration. Honestly, it’s just so important that you remember, especially in an online argument where you can’t see them, that you are dealing with another human being with the same inherent dignity and worth that you have.
- Never Value Winning the Point Over Winning a Soul: So far, there hasn’t been a ton that was specific to my spiritual identity, but this one is coming pretty strong on it. If that makes you uncomfortable, that’s fine. Replace the word “soul” with “friend” if you want, but that definitely weakens the impact. The reality is, when we get heated over these discussions, it’s because we believe that both the topic and the person we’re discussing with matters. The topics we lose our minds over are the topics that we think are essential to determining the quality of the life or, in some cases, the quality of the person themselves. It’s precisely because the stakes are so high that we can’t stand the idea of them being so incredibly wrong. If that’s the case, then make sure that you don’t lose that person over your desire to prove a point. The point must always be less important than the person. These students are treasures. They are bright, caring, thoughtful children who desire real communication, an actual exchange of ideas. If our nation and world are indeed going to improve and grow, it will be because of people like them who are willing to learn from others, including, and perhaps especially, from people who see things differently.
Of course, all of this assumes that the reason you’re arguing isn’t because you’re just a belligerent jerk looking to ridicule and troll everyone you encounter. If that is you, then you’ve wasted your time reading this. So who trolled who?