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A Roundtable With Darling offers real talk from a few of our writers. This Q&A series will take an issue and share the writers’ personal experience and lessons learned. The hope is to create a space of connection and transparency.

Our current political climate is extremely divisive. This seems to be only amplified by the Internet Age and social media. Unfollow. Flag. Shame. Mute. Berate. Label. Dismiss. Shut down. In a moment in history where everyone seems more focused on being right and being heard, it seems that we have lost sight of the art of true dialogue—to listen in order to learn and to empathize with the experience of others.

For our newest edition of “A Roundtable With Darling,” we are delving into a sensitive topic in hopes of bringing wisdom, empathy and understanding through honest dialogue. Can we engage with people we disagree with in a healthy way? How can we have honest, yet hard conversations? Is this possible in 2020?

Grab a seat at the table with us as a few Darling writers share their thoughts on this important topic:

What is your opinion about the current state of the ability to engage in healthy rhetoric and dialogue in America?

“It depends on which ‘America’ we’re talking about. The zoomed-out America—the one seen in social media feeds and headline news—seems to have completely lost its ability to engage in healthy debate or even respectful disagreement. However, in my experience, in the much (much) smaller scale version of America—around the dinner table with friends and at a coffee date with a coworker—healthy rhetoric and dialogue seem to very much still exist. 

Around the dinner table with friends and at a coffee date with a coworker, healthy rhetoric and dialogue seem to very much still exist. 

I guess we’ve known for a while that the broader, headline version of our country doesn’t accurately represent the individuals it comprises. This seems to be one of the most egregious examples of that.” — Bailey Price, New York City, New York

“Every election year I think, ‘How have we reduced ourselves to blaming and defending as the way to have healthy dialogue?'” – Jill Dyer, Sisters, Oregon

“The ability to have healthy dialogue and even the appreciation for healthy dialogue seem to be evaporating. It feels as though there is a sense that it isn’t possible to disagree with people—that one must instead choose sides. I think that is one of the great losses of this time in terms of dialogue. Disagreement is not only healthy, it is necessary, and a good part of the history of this country.” – Monica DiCristina, Atlanta, Georgia

“As a Latina, as a daughter of immigrants, so much feels heightened right now. As we get closer to the presidential election, my emotional capacity to engage in hard conversations is shrinking and becoming nonexistent. This tension exists because myself and many others feel that we have so much at stake. It feels so personal. When we feel emotionally invested in a particular political issue or feel under attack, it is difficult to engage in a healthy and civil manner with the other person.” – Cristina Amaro, Ventura, California 

“It’s a lot of ‘listen to my opinion, listen to my thoughts, this is how I feel,’ without the willingness to listen to other options, thoughts and feels.” — Jacie Scott, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Why do you think hard conversations and conversation amongst opposing viewpoints are difficult to have?

“Pay-per-click media has done such a disservice to us. In our over-sensationalized culture, the media can no longer simply present the facts; they have to grab our attention with flashy, affecting headlines and try to appeal to our emotions rather than our reason. Because of this, we are inundated with polarizing, emotional ‘news’ that leaves absolutely no room for nuance or a middle ground. It’s such a ‘with us or against us’ media frenzy that we end up with more anger than we do information.

Hard conversations can’t happen if anger is the undertone. There has to be humility, patience and a willingness to be wrong. This culture doesn’t create space for those things, and our conversations suffer because of it.” — Bailey Price

“Our desire to be right often eclipses our ability to treat every single human being with inherent dignity, regardless of the viewpoint.” – Jill Dyer

Our desire to be right often eclipses our ability to treat every single human being with inherent dignity, regardless of the viewpoint.

“Having these conversations with people you are in relationship with is hard because as humans, we are wired to want to belong. We have become so polarized that there is a fear that disagreement will equate to a lack of belonging. Having these conversations with people you are not in relationship with is difficult because we lose sight of the humanity in one another. It is easy to villainize them, or be villainized by others, from a distance. People are often not treated as humans by others on the internet.” – Monica DiCristina

We tend to become so rooted in our own ideologies that we cannot even stand to listen to or consider the viewpoints of others. These conversations are difficult to have when you feel so firmly planted in your beliefs that you are unable to listen or ask questions of the other person. I am guilty of this as well. As a woman of color, there are also some viewpoints which make me immediately feel unsafe and unwilling to engage at the risk of feeling unseen and unvalued.” – Cristina Amaro

“These conversations can be difficult when both sides go into it with the mindset of listening to respond rather than listening to understand. I think the divisive nature of today’s society makes us forget that intentional listening is just as important, if not more, as being heard.” — Jacie Scott

Has there ever been a time in your life where you had to have a conversation with someone you disagree with? How did that go?

“Oh, all the time. I’ve always been someone with strong opinions, which inherently presents plenty of opportunities to disagree with someone else. When I was younger, I wasn’t well-versed in humility and approached those types of conversations with pride and impatience. As I’ve grown, and as God (and life) has humbled me in so many ways, I’ve learned to soften and, maybe more importantly, to listen.”  — Bailey Price

“It happens often at the dinner table. I have three teenagers with opinions different than mine. It is a skill to listen and be curious, while expressing my own opinions and ideas in a non-aggressive way.” – Jill Dyer

“It was with one of my dearest friends, and it didn’t go well at first. We have always fallen on different sides of the political spectrum, and that has been mostly fine. Recently, we had a conversation that got pretty heated. My friend got defensive. Then, I got defensive.

My friend, in her characteristic humility, stopped herself and acknowledged she was getting defensive and apologized. I did too. We messily found our way back to connection. Humility and the courage to be vulnerable and admit wrong helped us remember that we have similar hearts and desires. ” – Monica DiCristina

We messily found our way back to connection. Humility and the courage to be vulnerable and admit wrong helped us remember that we have similar hearts and desires.

“As a peacemaker (aka an Enneagram 9), I have spent most of my life trying to avoid confrontation and conflict like the plague. I have had more conversations this year alone with people I disagree with than I have in my entire life. One memorable conversation regarding immigration did not go well, but I was proud that I was courageous enough to voice my true feelings and thoughts on an issue I have often avoided for fear of backlash. I had to cut it off once I felt very disrespected and demeaned.” – Cristina Amaro

“I’ve had some conversations where I’ve walked away defeated. I’ve had some where I’ve walked away feeling seen and with a better understanding of another perspective. I’ve also walked away from a conversation ready to throw my phone out of the window. I’ve learned that I can only control my role in the conversation. I choose to go in with an open mind, empathetic spirit and a conversational (non-combative) tone.” — Jacie Scott

Is it harder or easier to engage with someone you know personally whose beliefs are different from your own? Why?

“When we disagree with strangers, we have the ‘convenience’ of discounting their views entirely, rather than the difficulty of the emotional effort required to hold a loved one’s opinions, with whom we disagree, up alongside all the things we value about that person.

We’ve been taught to see those with different views as ‘across the aisle’ or ‘in the other camp,’ using blanket statements to describe them and binary labels of ‘liberal’ or ‘right-wing.’ With strangers, we can just slap that label on them as a whole and move on. But with people we know personally, it’s much harder to do that. It takes effort to engage a person as just that—a whole, dynamic and multidimensional person—and most of us don’t want to do the work.” — Bailey Price

It takes effort to engage a person as just that—a whole, dynamic and multidimensional person—and most of us don’t want to do the work.

“It is more difficult if I want to stay connected to that individual. Although similar beliefs are not needed to stay in connection, our experiences often inform us of the opposite.” – Jill Dyer

I believe it is harder, much harder, because you have a lot more at stake relationally than you do with a stranger. Disagreement could have relational consequences—like disconnection or even an ending—and I believe that is often why people mute their voice in relationships where they disagree.” – Monica DiCristina

For a sensitive and empathetic person like myself, I think it can be both harder and easier. It is easier because when it’s someone I know personally, I can be more honest and straightforward without fear that it will affect our relationship. It can be harder with extended family members or friends because although there is still love there, the relationship does not feel as immovable or anchored and so I have to engage more carefully.” – Cristina Amaro

“My first thought is to say that it is harder. We can respectfully disagree on lifestyles, spirituality, etc., but when it comes to disagreeing on basic human rights, equality and humanity, it gets hard. It becomes emotional, and it’s hard not to take it personally. I’ve had thoughts like, ‘Wow, how do you really feel about me as a Black woman if you choose to align with beliefs that negate my experiences and ultimately hinder the progress of those like me?'” — Jacie Scott

What is the value of having friends and community with different beliefs, opinions and ways of thinking?

“There’s so much to be said for surrounding ourselves with people who view the world differently than we do. If we engage them in those differences, then it helps educate and refine us—regardless of whether it changes our current views or affirms them. Plus, it’s incredibly sobering. In our echo-chamber culture of social media and curated feeds, our worldviews are constantly reinforced, passively or otherwise. Balancing that reinforcement with regular injections of opposing views is one of the best ways to keep us grounded, informed and humble.” — Bailey Price

There’s so much to be said for surrounding ourselves with people who view the world differently than we do.

“We cannot grow if our beliefs are not challenged. One way to be challenged is to live alongside those with differing lives. We can mature by learning our opinions are more deeply founded or find that we have held onto incorrect theories.” – Jill Dyer

“Imagine only tasting one thing your whole life, what a loss. In many ways that is what it is like to only surround yourself with people who believe and think exactly how you do. You will never know what you could have learned, how you could have grown and what you could have done with that.”  – Monica DiCristina

“We are pushed beyond the safe walls we’ve built to consider that we might not have it all figured out. I certainly have to continually remind myself of this daily. I see the value of challenging my own preconceived notions and ideas because I have seen the immense damage caused when people do not value different ways of thinking.” – Cristina Amaro

“I think there is value when there’s mutual respect, compassion and empathy present. It opens the door for healthy discussions and new perspectives that you may not have considered. It gives you a better view of the real world—full of diversity and a range of experiences—and can give you the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes.” — Jacie Scott

When, if ever, is the time to disengage with someone whose views are fundamentally different from your own? Is there a cut off line?

“If someone is engaging you in a way that is attacking, abrasive or in any way harmful, it may be the right decision to step away. We need to distinguish between the feeling of discomfort and the reality of being harmed. Discomfort leads to growth, harm doesn’t.” — Bailey Price

We need to distinguish between the feeling of discomfort and the reality of being harmed. Discomfort leads to growth, harm doesn’t.

“If a person employs regular toxic behavior that undermines your worth, boundaries must be put in place. Enabling toxic behavior is not safe for yourself or kind to the person displaying that behavior.” – Jill Dyer

“People can become dominating, or even abusive in their language, when they are filled with hate. If you encounter this, then you have every right to refuse to engage and even to refuse to continue in relationship. Sometimes, a boundary or an ending to a relationship is the most important message you can send.” – Monica DiCristina

When we can no longer see someone with an opposing view as a human being worthy of dignity and love, it is time to disengage. When we feel that the other person is no longer deserving of compassion or our respect, then we need to stop. This goes both ways. When I feel that the other person is no longer engaging in a respectful and kind manner toward me, then I have the right, for my own emotional well-being, to cut it off.” – Cristina Amaro

“There is absolutely a cut off line. For me, it’s when I realize that the person I’m engaged with has no interest in truly hearing my voice, only theirs. On the other end, if I find myself getting too emotionally charged, then I need to disengage. I know that I can get really fired up, but no progress can be made past a certain point.” — Jacie Scott

What role has social media played in the ability to dialogue?

Social media is great for so many things, but I don’t think healthy dialogue or debate is one of them. Have you ever changed your mind about an issue because someone posted the perfectly curated story, or someone left a comprehensive, informed comment on a post? There are plenty of people out there posting with great intentions, and I don’t discount that. But there are a lot of others posting or reposting because something is trendy and using scripted text to induce shame and anger.” — Bailey Price

“Social media can rightly allow us to see a diverse array of humanity. Other times, the rhetoric is combative, untrue and oppressive. It is important we engage the effect of what we take in.” – Jill Dyer

“Social media allows people to speak without consequences. When you are face-to-face with someone, it is harder to deny their humanity. When you are face-to-face, it is harder to hide from the impact of your words. People hide online and throw bombs at each other from their respective bunkers. This is not dialogue. It also encourages ‘us vs them’ thinking and gives a platform for bullies.” – Monica DiCristina

Social media allows people to speak without consequences. When you are face-to-face with someone, it is harder to deny their humanity.

“It is a double-edged sword. It has given us an expansive space and several outlets on which to dialogue. However, when choosing to dialogue on social media, we can often forget we are talking with fellow human beings deserving of dignity and respect. It has drawn out the worst in many of us (myself included). However, the value of social media is that it has also given us a space to share about what we care about the most. It has brought people together and, for some of us, helped us feel a little less alone.” – Cristina Amaro

Social media can be a gateway for people to share facts, opinions and engage with one another. I’ve seen people share wonderful webinars, educational IG stories and engaging posts. I’ve also seen how social media can become an arena for trolls, misinformation and spewing of hate. I try to remind myself that I can only control my role in things. Share information, double check facts, engage where appropriate and disengage when needed.” — Jacie Scott

Finally, what is your hope for America in this time of heightened divisiveness?

So many people, myself included at times, feel discouraged and disillusioned by the divisiveness all around us. There’s anger, conflict and polarizing headlines, but I still believe that in smaller moments—in conversations around dinner tables and text threads between friends—we are forging a better path. We still long for connection; we’re still capable of progress even if mainstream media deems the baby steps we take as unworthy of mention. So, my hope is that we don’t lose sight of how powerful those unseen moments really are. My hope is that we still have hope for something better.” — Bailey Price

I hope our degree of divisiveness would be exceeded by our ability to honor the dignity present in every individual.” – Jill Dyer

My hope for Americans is for us to grow in honesty and empathy. I believe the divisiveness is largely fueled by the denial of other people’s realities. How can we come together if people are completely denying the lived experiences of others? We must grow in honesty and empathy in order to lay the groundwork for dialogue.

We must grow in honesty and empathy in order to lay the groundwork for dialogue.

I love this quote from Desmond Tutu: ‘Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking, but in the end, it is worthwhile because an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”‘  – Monica DiCristina

“I hope we will ask ourselves why we hold certain opinions so closely, especially when it is at the expense of being unable to listen to the pain others are experiencing. I hope we will overcome our own pride and fear of the unknown. I hope that we will seek to build relationships more than we are trying to prove to the world that we are ‘right.'”– Cristina Amaro

“I hope for an America where more people are willing to step outside of their bubble of comfort and consider viewpoints other than their own. We must learn empathy. We may live in the same America, but we don’t all share the same experiences.” — Jacie Scott

Do you think it is possible to have healthy communication and relationships with people who hold different political views? What are some ways we can cultivate respect and the humility to listen to others’ perspectives?

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