Believe it or not, I have many friends and acquaintances who are conservative Republicans and some are even Trumpers. Most of the time we avoid politics, but when we do get around to such sensitive topics, we have some pretty good discussions. It is unlikely many opinions ever get changed, but I admit sometimes our conversations drive me to do more research on topics we discussed. I confess I mostly do it to see if what they say is accurate, but I also learn about things and get a better understanding of their perspective.

While our conversations can get pretty intense and we continue to disagree, we never get disagreeable. Many times we even joke about our differences. Through it all we still remain friends.

There are others who disagree with me in a mean, nasty, name-calling fashion. I get a lot of this on blogs and Facebook. Tempers flare and their worst side comes out. That behavior makes a civil discussion virtually impossible. It’s hard to respect people like that, and sadly I have generally dissociated myself from them. The current political climate has shown a side of them I didn’t know existed, and frankly I don’t have much interest in continuing a relationship with someone I don’t respect.

Much has been written about the current state of discourse, and there has been a lot of blame spread around. Social media, anonymous blogs, a nasty president are all culprits. I think these and many more causes exist. Like most people, I’m very careful about conversations I strike up with people I’ve just met. Who knows when you’ll witness a verbal explosion, and my life is too short for that. I suspect there are others who feel the same way.

Going forward, let’s try to remember a few things. First, unless you’re arguing about facts there is no right or wrong, only values. For example, I disagree with those who support building a wall, but I would like to hear the reasons given for their support. If eventually those people justify it because of perceived facts, we can check on that. But if we never get there, it’s just their values differing with mine, and that is unresolvable.

Swearing, name-calling and insults should always be avoided in these discussions. Nothing inflames debate more than disparagement. It’s a sure way to bring out the worst in everybody involved. Deep breaths, relaxing and waiting a day to respond to online discussions (what I call my 24-hour rule) can do wonders. While many topics are emotional, little is gained by talking with heat.

Here’s another one: If the only reason you say something is to make yourself feel better, you probably shouldn’t do it. More than likely, you will be lashing out or striking back, and that gets you nowhere. Just swallow it and move on.

The polarization we hear about is real. Unless we get better about this, the 2020 election may cause a long-term divide in our country. We need to get better when thinking about other points of view or we may face an extremely negative future.

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Fred Abraham is professor emeritus and former head of the economics department at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the university.


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