Last time I talked about how we do have some commonality with people who may have a different worldview than ours. Today I want to look at how we can navigate a potentially combative conversation to come to some sort of agreement, maybe even win the other person over to our point of view.
As Phillip astutely pointed out in the comments from my last post, we’ve lost the art of civil conversation. We don’t seem to know how to talk to someone who disagrees with us anymore. Social media has made it worse with their algorithms that funnel us all into our confirmation bias echo chambers. Now, it seems a whole section of society that cannot tolerate dissention from the narrative they feed on, which is where we get cancel culture.
But, according to Dr. Jeff Meyers, President of Summit Ministries, it is possible to navigate these hostile waters and actually have some useful conversation. I’ve included a video interview where he talks about this below.
“Cancel culture goes back to a Marxist worldview. Victor Sebestyen, one of Vladimir Lenin’s biographers, said that Lenin perfected the art of using name calling and shame, not to to try to gain an advantage but to eliminate all alternative voices.”
Meyers says that, typically, there are two types of people in a disagreement: one is the avoider…“You have your truth, I have my truth, we just have to agree to disagree.” The other is the aggressor. They are waiting for that mic-drop moment to shut you up and win the argument. Their goal is to shame the other person into submission.
While it’s logically incoherent to claim that there is no objective truth, we can agree that how we perceive truth may be multi-faceted. As it’s been postulated, we may just be viewing the same elephant from a different side of his enormous body.
Meyers tells his students to stop looking at disagreement one-dimensionally, like a head-on conflict, but start looking at it two-dimensionally, where two people are moving forward together in search of the truth.
He says to think of it like a triangle. At the top is the word, “Advocate” because we both should want to be advocates for the truth, and be advocates for the other person. I’ve created this diagram to illustrate the way I see this working.
Conflict is not fighting against each other in a Christian worldview, but walking together to fully understand and communicate, until we both arrive at the truth.
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20 NIV)
While, admittedly, this can be a difficult endeavor in today’s polarized society, Meyers says it is possible if we will move away from attacking the other person’s position to asking questions, like “What do you mean by (accusation)?” Or, “How do you know that is true?”
Finding commonality as advocates instead of seeing every issue as “us vs. them” doesn’t mean we don’t challenge views we believe to be unfair or wrong. Meyers encourages us to push back on inaccurate labels.
For instance, being accused of being guilty of anarchy and violence by association is a category mistake. We can push back on this logical fallacy by asking the question when accused, “Do you think that’s the whole story?”
For example, it doesn’t logically follow that 100 people foolishly storming the Capitol on January 6th represents 75 million Trump supporters. It’s up to the person making the accusation to prove the connection between being a Trump supporter of anarchy and violence. And they know they can’t do it, so they rely on a lot of name calling to substitute for argument.
Meyers also talks about how detrimental social media and the more recent social-distancing restrictions have been to achieving real connection and clear communication.
When you consider Albert Mehrabian’s famous 1967 study on communication, showing that 55% of our communication is through our posture and facial expression, 38% is through our tone of voice, and only 7% is through our words, you’re virtually guaranteed to have miscommunication if you’re only communicating through a facial mask or Twitter!
This is why Meyers recommends getting off social media and having coffee with someone you disagree with and talking about it, face to face, so that you can share your viewpoints and ask to hear theirs.
He also talks about other Marxist strategies that have infiltrated societal thinking in the video below. Dr. Meyers does a good job explaining what we’re up against in the world of cancel culture and gives some good advice to how to position ourselves for more effective communication.
While it’s not an easy task, it is worth considering if we want to be a positive influence on our society and stay connected with those we love who may have a different point of view than us. After all, we are called to be salt and light in this world.
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matt.5:13-15 NIV)