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» Got Questions? Get Answers. » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Changing the script: Debates vs Conversations

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Author Topic: Changing the script: Debates vs Conversations
Jacob at Scarleteen
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I feel like all so often, especially on political questions but also other stuff that the format of formal debates seems to be the standard for what many people seem to think is a good discussion.

I find it really emotionally taxing, but although sometimes I can avoid it, sometimes it feels too important.

I'm wondering if anyone else has this feeling, and if anyone has strategies for disrupting the script, the binary and so on?

When someone gets defensive I find myself getting angry and defensive in the same way... but given how often these things crop up, it's not really good for me in the long term. Or anyone else who gets burnt-out by debate speak.

One thing I often try to do is to ask questions... I think people often expect a counterpoint, but if I ask another question this can alter the dynamic and sometimes can totally diffuse things.

I think disagreement and being able to deal with it but also communicate through it is important but so often other stuff gets in the way... be-it the academic 'I'm-better-than-you' response or the macho descent to insults.

Anything anyone's experienced along these lines or how they get past it, I would totally welcome.

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Lilerse
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I think asking questions is always an important part of this. The incident that comes to mind first is when I was traveling and met two Americans in a hostel who were the exact opposite of me in almost every way. The most evangelical fundamentalist conservative Christians I'd ever met - and they were my age too (young adult), which also disturbed me. But the conversations I had and time spent with them was a really important part of my life. I needed to know that people like this truly existed, and that they were, you know, people, just like me. With the conversations we had about religion and politics, especially with the one guy, it definitely felt like more of a conversation than a debate. We both knew we weren't going to change each other's minds. So I just listened. Asked questions. It was fascinating. I continued to be reminded that arguing was fruitless as every one of his claims and bases for logic came from the Bible. Fortunately, he was very receptive to the type of conversation we were having - even though, for both of us, we'd rarely come into contact with our "types" of people - i.e. he went to a conservative Christian university with like-minded young people, and I went to a super feminist radical liberal arts school that questioned absolutely everything about tradition and conventional social values. Anyway, point is, I think we both learned from each other instead of attacking each other. While neither of our beliefs were changed in the slightest I think it expanded both our knowledge of others' belief systems and our compassion towards people very different from ourselves. Not that part of me wasn't sad afterward, that people like him see things the way they do, but being sad is better IMO than being angry and self-righteous. Arguing with him would be unproductive and push him to an even more anti-liberals mindset.

So. Talking. Communicating. Listening. Understanding. Asking questsions - not to prove a point but for curiosity and learning's sake. Expressing your beliefs and experiences without telling someone they have to agree. Everyone has such different reasons for feeling the way they do, and it was helpful for me to hear what happened to him to make him a born-again Christian and why he felt like it changed his life so positively. And despite our differences I felt far more connected to him than if I had been yelling at him to stop being a bigot and agree with me. It was good. (I just wish he didn't vote)

[ 05-05-2013, 12:52 PM: Message edited by: Lilerse ]

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Haleigh H
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I used to be super argumentative, I would get really defensive and give people the vibe that it was my way or the highway. This was exhausting in more ways than one and often left people really angry. I genuinely couldn't understand what I was doing to make people so defensive and give them the idea that their opinion meant nothing to me.

Eventually, I figured out that it wasn't really what I was saying in these discussions it was the way that I was saying it. It was my tone, my body language, my attitude. My beliefs are my passions so in discussions I was having a hard time controlling my passion and communicating respectfully, it was all about how I was feeling at that moment and I totally disregarded the other person.

It has helped me tremendously to breath, and focus on my breathing while I'm listening. I've always respected the opinions of others even though my tone and body language were saying that I didn't. Now that I can keep myself calm and in control I don't force others to be defensive. I've noticed that being calm and relaxed, even when things get heated, can keep others calm and relaxed too.

I also try to ask lots of questions. I learn, gain perspective, but also have more time to breath and focus on keeping my passion under control.

Honestly, I haven't got this all figured out and having discussions with people on topics that I'm passionate about is not easy for me. I sometimes avoid these conversations all together because it is emotionally draining. It's hard to stay calm when you really care about an issue and your trying to defend it [Big Grin]

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Haleigh

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Lilerse
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Yes yes yes. Tone is SO important and I get crap for it so often. I'm totally with you on not getting why people are acting so defensive and then..oh, right.
So thanks for the reminder, and the reminder to breathe,

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Jacob at Scarleteen
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That's pretty interesting Haleigh! I've been practising abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation recently, I never thought to do it in the middle of a conversation.

I guess with the avoiding such conversations, that actually sounds like another pretty legitimate tactic. Stepping out of issues when they are emotionally draining like that is really something I need to learn to do.

It sounds like involving a lot more self-care in interacting with people can simply put you in a better state of mind and knowing that you can step out whenever you want to can be part of that.

That's really helpful to me, thanks for brining it up!

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Haleigh H
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I listen to this great podcast FWF by Jaclyn Friedman and that's were I've gotten most of this stuff. She often says something along the lines of you don't have to fight every fight. It's okay to take off your advocate hat and just sit that one out. There is a lot of work to do but there are a lot of great people doing the work so it's okay to just sit back and take a breath or skip out on a discussion that your not up to getting into.

I've found that advice incredibly helpful. Listening to the podcast is one of my self care techniques : )

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Haleigh

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Jacob at Scarleteen
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FWF is great! And it's so important to actually find examples of people to look up to... I find a lot of "public intellectuals" or whatever, make a name for themselves by being able to demolish someone else's argument, which like I said tires me out.

I find that sometimes I meet people who have this amazing ability to spot some potential in what another person expresses where I just see a load of stuff that offends me. And by spotting that hidden aspect and saying "You know what I DID like about what you said" - even if it was the tiniest detail, flip the whole situation upside down and and push the understanding of stuff further without saying "you suck because you got it wrong" saying something like "You don't realise how right you could be!".

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Jill2000Plus
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I mostly just don't get involved in debate these days because I get too upset by people's bigotry and ignorance, great if you can find a way to do that but I can't stand there and talk to someone who believes that who I am is inferior to who they are (which is completely distinct from what they choose to believe which they say makes it ok for them to believe I'm inferior), I get that there are some people who's religion is very important to them and who individually choose to follow restrictions that nobody should have to but do recognize that nobody should have to and it's not ok to shame people into following them and just accept that that's what comfortable for them without forcing it on their children or anyone else, or ditto except their reasons are not particularly related to religious beliefs, them I don't have a problem with, but most of the time I can't bring myself to have a discussion with people who would vote to deny me or anyone else their rights. I don't want those people to go through hell or anything like that, but I am a human being and hearing people say words to the effect that I don't deserve/have a right to autonomy over my body and life choices or that I'm morally inferior to them because of who I am or choices I made which I have every right to make is not really something I can just brush off without feeling anything. I'm sorry if this post is overly combative, actually, I really don't want it to be and I have a lot of admiration for people who can manage to engage with a person who is ignorant/prejudiced about something and try and find a way to plant the seed that gets them to stop voting against other people's rights and hopefully makes their own life better by giving them a recognition of their humanity and the choices they're entitled to that they probably don't get from the people who they usually interact with so much. Because seriously, while I don't want to be condescending I can say with a pretty high degree of certainty that a lot of those people are not all that happy. Not to imply that I'm without ignorance myself, but I don't spend my time campaigning against the rights of others. Anyway this has gotten a bit rambly. I do think there's value in being able to demolish an argument though, I understand some people find it tiring and that's fair enough but it serves an important purpose. One thing I'd say is good is trying to get people to empathize with the people that they're discriminating against because if they can find something within themselves that recognizes that other person's humanity that can make them feel more assured of their own humanity and produce more positive results.

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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Jill2000Plus
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I just wanted to say, that sometimes it can feel remarkably life-affirming to find some compassion in yourself for someone who has none for you. I saw some really nasty stuff about fat people online this weekend, and for a while I was really angry and then eventually I thought "I can't imagine how empty their life must feel if they can say that kind of hateful stuff to someone just for being fat, I'm still angry, and they have ultimately chosen to think that way so I'm not going to campaign for them to go to Disneyland, but I kind of feel sorry for them, even though I don't trust them and am justified in feeling that way, I have really good friends and when we get together we make each other laugh our asses off without needing to put people down for who they are to do it... has this person ever experienced that, even if it's to some extent their own fault that they haven't?" I know that pity can be condescending, but well, they kind of deserve to be condescended to, and at least it's a huge step up from "I hope you get beaten up". They have a lot more choice over whether they're a hateful bigot than I do over my weight, but I can still feel some sympathy for them... that's kind of nice. I feel like that's relevant to this discussion, which is why I posted it here.

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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Jacob at Scarleteen
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Good points Jill,

I think when people are full-on bigoted it can really be way too upsetting to get involved at all... I think knowing to do so is a really good thing. It's been good for me to learn to just say "This isn't going to change anything except get me upset I need to step out of this conversation".

Sadly I started this thread while thinking about feminist and lefty spaces... where so often, round me, it seems this problem of oppositional styles of discussion is a bigger deal than how extreme those people's views are. I feel like for a lot of people the 'point' of discussion seems to be to win over other people with your point of view.

But dealing with actual homophobic or sexist people attacking my point of view is something I'd avoid too... and I really like your point of humanising them for the very purpose of getting over how upsetting their words might be, and dealing with it more practically.

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