How to Get Political Discussion Back on Track

discourseGuys, we need to talk. This election season has been rough. On everyone. I have no doubt that we all want what’s best for our country. And I know we don’t all agree on what is even best for our country. But there has got to be some common ground, some improvements we all want to see take shape here. Maybe we do agree on how the ideal United States would look, but disagree on how we get there. Whatever the case is, we need to be talking about it and we need to be doing so respectfully.

Some people, like the David Dukes in the world absolutely need to be called out and held responsible for their beliefs. However, we also need to be willing to have respectful discussions with people we don’t agree with and avoid alienating them, or else we will never found that common ground.

We also need not be so reactive that people are afraid to express how they feel. This goes for both sides. Being PC doesn’t mean you can’t say what you think or feel. It just means not being a rude ahole and being a bit more mindful of others’ feelings. That should not be a bad thing, or all that hard, really. We are all adults with a decent enough vocabulary that if you feel stifled because you can’t use a certain word, then buy a thesaurus and join us when you’re ready to talk like an adult.

For example, retard, libtard, any-tard really, just makes you look ignorant and angry and doesn’t get you anywhere so why not just try to be respectful and not name call? Stick to the issue without nonsensical attacks that could be hurtful. Give respect, get respect.


So here, I’m sharing some ideas that I have learned from a discussion at the Park School, as well as part of what I learned from my morning as a Montessori Adolescent (you can read that whole experience here, if you are interested.)

The discussion I attended at the Park School included a viewing of Tim Wise’s documentary White Like Me. It was a heady topic (race).  (See my coverage on that here.)

We were given some great general guidelines that I felt they warranted their own separate post. They are meant for in-person discussions but can certainly be useful to keep in mind while walking through the political landmine that is social media.

Feel free to add other suggestions in the comments, or share your own experience with tough discussions and how these may have helped (or maybe did!). Disclaimer: I am by no means perfect and have had a really hard time this election season following these guidelines myself. But we can always strive to do better, right?!

The guidelines we were given were:

  • Be present & welcoming
  • Listen deeply to learn (rather than half-listening and just preparing your response)
  • No fixing
  • Suspend judgment and assumptions. Seek understanding.
  • Speak your truth & expect truth from others
  • Respect silence
  • When things get difficult, turn to wonder (i.e. think, notice, reflect)
  • Trust the circle


My Montessori experience focused on how to properly “seminar” to learn from each other and have a rich and open exchange of ideas.

Through an assigned reading, we learned about the interpersonal theory of learning-that we learn best from each other, through exchange of thoughts, through interaction with one another.

Our reading also took us through the four types of seminars, in ascending order from rich to richer styles of intellectual conversation. They were:

The Free-for-All. Consider this like maybe the comment section of almost every Facebook argument ever.  Anything goes, the goal is for me to look smart and you to look dumb.

The Beauty Contest-look at me! I’m so smart! I don’t care about your idea, I just want you to hear mine. Lalalaaaa….not listening!

The Distinguished House Tour-Ideas are explained, explored, discussed, and questioned. No one claims their idea is better than your’s.

The Barn-Raising-everyone helps to build the discussion, setting rules and expectations. Everyone can suggest changes and improvements as the discourse is formed. This allows everyone to take ownership of  the discussion and contribute positively to the conversation. Every one’s point of view is valued.


Think about your most recent difficult discussion, whether it was about politics or something else you disagreed on (even how to load the dishwasher). How did you approach the conversation? Were any of the characteristic I listed above present in your discussion? If you were to pick, which type of seminar resonated with you as your most frequent experience online?

I think we all have room for improvement and really, what do we have to lose? Nothing. But we stand to gain more understanding, respect, and who knows, people who never knew they could be on the same side could find themselves working toward a common goal and making positive change. We need to start somewhere.

Here’s my own list of things to consider if you belong to an online group and your goal is to genuinely find understanding and common ground:

Be personable.Give the benefit of the doubt. No name-calling. Try to see it from their perspective, even if you don’t agree. Argue on the merits of what they say, not attacking who they are or how they say it.  Provide sources and evidence, not just your opinions. Do consider your sources and know that neither MSNBC nor Breitbart will get your very far. Make a concerted, open effort to be fair and open-minded. Question your own sources. Don’t be a bully. Laugh together. Don’t generalize or pigeonhole someone. Remember your common humanity.


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