The minefield of discourse grows more treacherous by the day. With the fierce and ongoing conflict in nearly every sphere of public life, people are more divided than ever by their beliefs with regard to politics, society and culture.
It goes without saying that there is a definite time and place for discussion of these issues; they’re important and demand our attention. However, sometimes we’re put on the spot and have to make a decision or confess a belief that risks alienating or upsetting people.
Try as we might to keep our opinions to ourselves, eventually, they’re going to be tested publicly. When that happens, we need to be prepared to make our case and stand our ground against opposition.
Before I go any further, I must clarify that there isn’t such a thing as “not having an opinion,” particularly with regard to hot-button topics. As a participant in both of those systems, you should have an opinion on how they affect you or other people. If you don’t, then it will be decided for you by those who interpret your silence as acceptance.
Even if you don’t know what you stand for, you must eventually decide what you don’t stand for. It’s one thing not to take an active stance advancing a particular issue, but it’s another to pretend that issue has nothing to do with you, when it affects everyone in the country.
So, we’ve established that the battle of ideas exists and that you cannot be passive in that battle, that is, if you value its outcome. So, how do we fight this battle without burning bridges that irreparably destroy other people’s perceptions of us?
1. Be Authentic.
Don’t hide your beliefs, especially not to offend anyone who might take issue with them. Lying about who you are and what you value to save face with others never works out in the long run, and it isn’t healthy in the short term either. Furthermore, anyone who would refuse to associate with you purely over your beliefs isn’t worth lying for anyway; if they don’t respect you as a person enough to see past your politics, why give them the time of day?
2. Be Open.
It’s always wise to keep your opinions to yourself, especially controversial ones, but when asked in good faith, answer honestly. Learn to thoroughly and accurately articulate your beliefs in a way that invites questions about why you believe those things.
3. Be Loose.
Don’t ever state your beliefs as fact; instead, preface them with “I believe” or “in my experience.” Benjamin Franklin used this trick in debates with the Founding Fathers so as not to appear disagreeable. In a light conversation, you’re not out to prove anything, so don’t try.
4. Stand your Ground.
Inevitably, you’ll end up facing someone who isn’t out to learn your beliefs at all, but who only wants to make you look foolish, typically in front of other people. Such grifters warp your words or create outlandish scenarios to make your beliefs, and by extension you, seem ignorant, backward, or out of touch. When this happens, don’t give them an inch. Stand by what you say and don’t backpedal. Don’t get nervous and try to save face by saying “Well, what I actually meant was this,” when you very clearly didn’t.
5. Be Classy.
Keep the conversation civil. Sometimes people try to escalate tensions. They raise their voices, point their fingers, make rude comments and the like to get their opponents angry. Don’t let any of it get to you. Certainly don’t reciprocate it, or else you’re just as much in the wrong. If you must do something, get up and walk away. Instead, keep the conversation on track, talking about the beliefs rather than the people who hold them.
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