Thursday, December 03, 2020

The Lost Arts of Empathy and Conversation. We need to revive them, and not let the extremists among us dominate our political conversation.

From The Atlantic monthly:

How We Got Trump Voters to Change Their Mind
[...] Typically, when volunteers engage in a canvassing campaign, the effort basically amounts to verbal leafleting. They make a one- to two-minute targeted pitch for a candidate or a ballot initiative, and then they leave or hang up the phone.


In a deep canvass, we want to have a real conversation. To get people to open up, we start by asking the basics: How are you doing? How are you holding up in this global pandemic? We respond not with canned answers, but with more questions: Oh, you’re watching football? Who is your team? How is your family doing? We’re really asking, and we really listen. Eventually, a true back-and-forth begins, one where we exchange stories about our lives and what is at stake for ourselves and for our communities in this election. Usually, by the end, what emerges is some kind of internal conflict—why the person is frustrated, why she can’t decide who to vote for, or why she is skeptical of Biden.


Research has shown time and again that people vote from an emotional place. It’s not so much that facts don’t matter. It’s that facts and talking points do not change minds. And arguing opinions at the start of a conversation about politics causes the interview subject to keep his defensive, partisan walls up and prevents him from connecting with the canvasser.

We don't try to directly persuade people to change their minds on a candidate or an issue. Rather, we create intimacy, in the faith that people have an ability to reexamine their politics, and their long-term worldview, if given the right context. We’ve found that when people start to see the dissonance between what they believe and what they actually want, their views change—many of them come around to a more progressive perspective. For example, if a woman says she believes that immigrants are the main problem in our society, but reveals that her top personal concern is health care, then we talk about whether immigrants have anything to do with that worry. When a man says he wants to feel safe, we ask questions about what, in particular, makes him feel unsafe. If he answers COVID-19, then we talk about which candidate might be better suited to handle the pandemic.

Throughout our effort, I’ve been struck by how willing people are to be vulnerable with our canvassers. Amazingly, more than 85 percent of those we engage in an actual conversation have shared something with which they are deeply struggling. In these personal exchanges, we are embracing empathy for people who are sometimes wildly different from ourselves, and empathy, it turns out, is an extremely effective conversion tool.


Such discussions are not transformative just for the people on whose doors we’re knocking (or whose phones we’re on the other end of)—they are also transformative for the canvassers. In our podcast, To See Each Other, about rural communities that are often described as Trump country, our organizer Caitlin Homrich-Knieling shared her experience of having deep-canvass conversations about immigration in rural Michigan. We’re strangers, she said, “starting out with a blank slate, and in that conversation, we’re showing them so much care and empathy about their own hard times and asking so many questions about their own life. We really honor their story and their wisdom and their dignity.”

The connections she made while knocking on doors made her see that she was not bringing that same spirit—of listening and radical empathy—to her relationships back home, in the state’s upper peninsula, where she and family and friends didn’t always see eye to eye. That realization has changed her relationship with her mother, her aunt, and her childhood best friend. Now, when they talk about politics, race in America, or immigration, they approach their talks with a willingness to learn and listen.

Overall, our conversations have not modeled the broader narrative of division that this election tells. They show that on the individual level, we all want to understand one another—how we have come to see the world, what we are up against—and we all want to be heard. [...]

I really liked the part where the canvasser realized that if she can find empathy with strangers she disagrees with politically, then why can't she, why isn't she doing that, with friends and family? Can't we ALL be doing that more?

The art of conversation requires the ability to listen. It seems to be a lost art. Perhaps it's time to revive it? The full article gives examples of what it's talking about, and has embedded links. It's worth reading the whole thing.

I don't strictly belive in either the Republican Party or the Democrat Party; they are both flawed and imperfect, and anyway are supposed to be political vehicles for people to use to form alliances around, not ideologies in and of themselves. I do believe in our two-party system, and the balance of power. When either party becomes too powerful, we tend to get their lunatic fringe and worst ideas trying to rule everything.

The current polarity in our politics, has eliminated conversation. Too often, it's like one side is wanting to destroy the other. It's insane, to vilify one half of the country's population. I live in a rural area that is very conservative, and have a business in town, where the politics are more liberal. Politically they are worlds apart. But I live in both of them. I have friends in both, and have to function in both. I don't attack people in either, and I don't want to see one destroying the other.

In a civilized world, people can agree to disagree, and work together to find compromises based on concensus. If we can't get back to that, I fear we will not survive. Nor will we deserve to.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. Nature does not favor the weak. We have enemies, who would like to see BOTH sides destroyed. What is it going to take, to wake us up, before it's too late?