Michael has been an educator for over 20 years. He was a founding member of the Torat Tzion Kollel movement in Cleveland, Ohio, where he and his wife Dara taught in and helped create the curriculum of the Fuchs Mizrachi School. Michael was the lead educator for ICNext, a training program for the broader Jewish Community in Cleveland. He was also a creative consultant the the Cleveland Playhouse. Michael studied philosophy in and received smicha from YU. Michael and Dara have five children and live in Efrat.
Are you finding that your conversations and newsfeeds are clogged by partisan miscommunication? Are people yelling past each other instead of talking to each other?
If you are happy with that, then move on. But if you're interested in the JU:Israel approach, I'd like to lay out a draft for tool kit. Its for making conversations between people who disagree productive, enlightening and helpful. In another lifetime, I created an intellectual defense of moderation, which you can read. But in this post, I'm going to lay out tools and tactics to keep things going.
And remember, you can be defensive or persuasive, but not both. You can also be offensive or persuasive, but not both. You can't vent your frustration with other people's opinions, or you can try to bring people around to your opinion. But not both. Its important to be validatied by like minded people. But political discourse is meant to be addition, not subtraction. Its meant to find the common ground and consensus that allows productive problem solving. That's how democracy is meant to work. Let's fix this.
Quote break -
"A nation is held together by shared values, shared beliefs, shared attitudes. That is what enables a people to maintain a cohesive society despite the tensions of daily life. This is what enables them to rise above the conflicts that plague any society. That is what gives a nation its tone, its fiber, its integrity, its moral style, its capacity to endure." - John W. Gardner
1. Be intellectually humble:
How? Just add:
"I think that..."
"I'm confident that..."
"My fear is..."
"I'm skeptical that..." etc.
In other words, use qualifiers.
2. Talk to who you are talking to:
Sounds obvious. But let me illustrate what I think is happening with a couple of charts. Take a look and I'll explain what they mean.
In this chart, we see the moderate red person on the right yelling at/about some exteme wackos way out on the left exteme. He is ignoring the reasonable blue person he could be talking to about important issues. And the blue fellow on the left, is doing the same in reverse. Extremists on either end now feel better about themselves, but reasonable people in the middle are left with the illusion that common ground is unattainable. All heat no light. Sad.
This time, the reasonable people in the middle are talking to each other! They are listening and being enlightened. Huzzah! By ignoring the nonsense of the extemes, they are presenting each other with valid points and counter-points. Some people call this form of dialogue, "reasonable discourse". While endangered on cable news stations, it does exist in the wild. Won't you help it reproduce before it becomes extinct?
3. Use your imagination:
Online text argument can get feisty. The lack of body language cues can lead us to fail to be polite and make our interlocuter to feel respected. Before hitting send on that post, picture the person reading it. How will they "hear" your words? Is it very important to get in a killer zinger and a mic drop? Or are you legitimately trying to get someone to see from your point of view? You may have to choose. The person is a stranger? Imagine someone who you are cautious when speaking to. (H/T to my friend Noam for this one)
4. Establish facts and principles:
This one in easier said then done. As early and often as possible, establish what you agree on. The nature of these discussions is to focus on areas of disagreement. But since you both believe in facts, and share similar values, stating those out loud will help avoid misunderstanding. If the person doesn't believe in facts or share your values, then why are you talking to them? Stop wasting your time.
Quote break - "There is no greater evil one can suffer than to hate reasonable discourse." - Plato
5. What about if we can't agree on facts?:
Great question. You both agree that there are facts, but disagree about what they are? Choose a referee. I find it helpful to get agreement about valid sources for facts.
Like, "let's agree that Wikipedia is a decent source for basic facts. It can get things wrong, but for the purposes of this we'll use it as a referee."
Or, "let's agree that if it appears in a vetted news source, we'll provisionally accept it as fact."
Or, "if we see the person saying it in a youtube video, let's agree that he said it."
Again, if the person doesn't believe that society's basic sources of information, are even basically reliable, then why are you talking to them? Stop wasting your time.
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Like I said, this is just a draft of some pointers. I'd love to add your tips and suggestions to make this a more useful set of guidelines. Remember, its meant to find the common ground and consensus that allows productive problem solving. That's how democracy is meant to work. Let's fix this.
Final quote -
"The play of conflicting interests in a framework of shared purposes is the drama of a free society. It is a robust exercise, and often a noisy one. It is not for the faint-hearted, or the tidy-minded." - John W. Gardner