These days, everywhere you look someone is fighting over something. Whether it’s politics, parenting, religion or lifestyle choices, people feel the need to speak out. But why do people feel the need to express themselves negatively? We’ve lost the fine art of civil discourse in modern society. We live in a world where people think they must act contentiously or stay silent on the issues that matter most. However, if there was ever a time to have important discussions, now is that time.
There’s a third course of action that is often overlooked. It’s entirely possible to disagree with someone without becoming disagreeable. Unfortunately, we’re really bad at doing just that. You don’t have to act like a jerk to get your point across, but you do have to think about these considerations.
Everyone is entitled to an informed opinion
Many of us espouse the misguided notion that, if given the same facts, all people come to the same conclusions. That’s both naive and reductive. Humans come from varying backgrounds, and we all have our own personality traits that shade our view of the world. We can learn the same information and still come to wildly different conclusions from our friends and neighbors.
Outside of moral absolutes, the truth is a relative thing. If we want people to acquiesce to our way of thinking, we need to stop acting like those who disagree with us are under-educated or misinformed. Don’t assume someone is ignorant of the issues simply because they don’t see things your way. It’s impossible to act civil and condescending at the same time.
Only informed opinions count
Before you share your view on the world, ensure you’re offering an informed opinion. One of the most powerful things you can learn is how much you do not know. No matter how brilliant we think we are, each of us has blind spots and gaps in our information. Before you assert your views, check that you are speaking within your area of study.
If you want others to take you seriously, you have to take yourself seriously first. It makes little sense to debate politics on social media if you haven’t watched the news in six months. Likewise, you can’t tell someone how to parent their child unless you are co-parenting right along with them. Understand the limitations of your viewpoint and your points of bias. Spouting off about something you don’t understand is how arguments start.
Focus on facts, not character
The second you attack someone’s character, you have lost the argument. If you can’t stay on point with facts and personal experiences, it’s time to stay silent. It’s never OK to disparage someone’s good name, no matter how much you differ in your opinions. Tact is not dead, and you don’t want to kill it. Besides, you can’t convince someone to adopt your stance if they hate your guts. It just doesn’t work that way.
Rise above personal attacks in public discourse, even online. It’s tempting to say something negative about someone you can’t see, but it’s still not OK. Remember this important rule: never say something online that you wouldn’t say face to face. Character assassination through social media is just as harmful as bullying in person.
Agree to disagree
The heart of public discourse is understanding, not winning. People are too diverse to ever agree completely on important issues, and even if they could, that would make a very boring world. Know when to step away and leave the conversation. If you push past the point of polite disagreement, you’ll only make enemies, and enemies never agree, no matter how valid the arguments.
Don’t avoid people who challenge your beliefs, either. Some of the best relationships are with people who help us grow. Disagreement is not a good enough reason to blacklist someone from your life. If you can’t act like adults and stay civil in your interactions, maybe it’s time to look at your maturity level.
Real adults know how to disagree with grace. You can stand up for yourself and your morals without sinking into arguing and name calling. Let’s bring the civility back into the public sphere. There are too many important issues to waste our time squabbling with each other. We need informed, intelligent adults to lead us into the future.