How to Have a Respectful, Fruitful Discussion with Anyone

Sometimes I think we will never have world peace as long as we have the Internet.

I love the Internet. I probably spend too much of my time on it. But any time a controversial news item is released or any sort of election happens, I want to chuck my laptop and phone out the window and never leave my room. This weekend was one of those times.

While it’s a marvel that so many people can establish a platform for sharing their stories and opinions via the Internet, we as a culture seem to have lost the art of arguing. I’m not talking about trolling in all caps, but about formal debate and discussion based on mutual respect. We grumble about how politicians care about nothing but loyalty to a political party, then turn around and call a stranger “bigoted” or “stupid” simply because this person doesn’t share our particular world view. If everyday citizens can’t learn to respect each other online, how can we expect world leaders to make peace with each other in real life?

So because we all could use a reminder, here’s how to have a respectful, fruitful discussion in just nine easy steps.

1. Cool it.

Emotional appeal is an argumentative strategy, but a reasonable argument is not fueled by emotion. So when you get angry about a particular issue, don’t jump on social media to write a lengthy post. Don’t launch into a full-blown defense of your point at the mere mention of the topic. Arguing doesn’t solve anything; discussions lead to solutions. If someone tries to provoke you into an argument, say, “Look, we’re really worked up right now. Can we discuss this when we’ve both calmed down?” This is not to say that you can’t be passionate about a certain issue, but flying into a rage is a surefire way to let the other person know you can’t be taken seriously.

2. Do your research.

In formal arguments, each side has to consider not just its own points, but any possible counter argument. Though the Internet has made petty online bickering commonplace, it has also made doing research to create clear, fact-based arguments easier than ever before. Spend some time researching causes you’re passionate about. Read the pros. Read the cons. Read Republican, Democrat, independent, liberal, conservative, purple, green, and yellow content. Get a well-rounded sense of the talking points surrounding a certain issue. And be wary of where your data comes from; a little extra research into the political and religious affiliations of a study can go a long way.

3. Look to share, not to convert.

The goal of a discussion is to discuss. If it’s about making people agree with you, that’s called poor evangelization. You may still disagree with the other person after your discussion, and that’s OK. Your goal for a discussion should be to offer new insight that the person might not have considered before. This is the kind of conversation that changes minds. “I changed my world view because someone forced their beliefs down my throat,” said no one ever.

4. Respect does not equal agreement.

Let’s be real here; in today’s Internet arguments, “She doesn’t respect my opinion!” more often than not means, “She doesn’t agree with me, therefore, she’s an inferior being.” Kindness and good manners are not contingent on how similar your world views are to those of the other person. The Golden Rule isn’t any different online than in person.

5. Disagreement does not merit disrespect.

Some words to eliminate from arguments: hypocrite, bigot, hater, idiot, lunatic. As we all learned in elementary school, insults hurt and they get you nowhere. It is possible to separate the person from their opinion. Just as you would want the other person to respect your freedom of speech, you should be respecting theirs. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall, the Voltaire biographer, wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

6. Listen. Listen. Listen.

How many times have you caught yourself saying, “Yeah, I’m _______, but I’m not like one of the crazy ones”? When you’re having a discussion, don’t put the other person in a catch-all box based on their world view. And don’t write that person off just because he or she has a different perspective than yours. People are so complex and interesting if you pay close enough attention; why do you think Humans of New York is so popular? Pay this person the courtesy of listening, really listening. It’ll help you with the next step, which is …

7. Ask questions and talk about solutions.

If you were really listening to this person, and not checking your phone or planning a counter argument to shut them down, you should be able to come up with a few questions. “What do you think about ________?” “I see your point, but what about ________?” “Can you please explain further what you mean by ________?” Asking questions doesn’t mean you’re “giving in,” but that you’re really trying to understand what that person is saying. You can also ask the person what solutions they have to the problem, and share some of yours. Proposed solutions move the conversation, and society, forward.

8. Be honest when you don’t have a good response.

Give the other person a chance to ask you questions, and be honest when you can’t give an answer. That doesn’t make you weak or uneducated or unprepared — it makes you a human being still trying to figure it all out. Get off your high horse. You don’t know everything. Only one being has all the answers, and He is not of this world. Say, “That’s a good question. I’ll research it further and get back to you.”

9. No matter how different your opinions are, you and the other person are equals.

Period.

So if you want to join the online discussion of last week’s Supreme Court decision, or any discussion, please keep these rules in mind. Let’s make the Internet a better place, one fruitful, respectful conversation at a time.

À la prochaine!

– Vicky

Question: What are YOUR rules for respectful discussions? Leave them in the comments below!

Hundred Word Reviews: “Lady in Waiting” by Jackie Kendall

Challenge No. 5: A Nonfiction Book

“Lady in Waiting: Becoming God’s Best While Waiting for Mr. Right,” by Jackie Kendall with Debby Jones, finished May 20. My first foray into Christian “chastity books.”

Lady_In_Waiting_FINAL_Front_cover

Hundred Word Review: In this updated edition of her 1997 bestselling book, Christian speaker Jackie Kendall uses the biblical story of Ruth to discuss 10 qualities single women should develop before meeting their “Boaz,” or future husbands. The message is clear, and Kendall’s analysis of the Book of Ruth is helpful in providing historical and cultural context. However, the writing is clunky. Kendall is the prominent narrator, but sometimes, the writer will say, “I (Jackie),” as if Jones was speaking and the pen was handed back. I would have liked the message better as a chastity talk rather than an awkwardly written book.

Check out PopSugar’s challenge and let me know in the comments if you have a book recommendation for one of the categories. And if you want to do the challenge yourself, let me know what you’re reading!

Also, for a sneak peek at upcoming Hundred Word Reviews, click here to follow me on Goodreads.

Next up, “a book from an author you love but haven’t read yet.”

Happy reading!

Vicky

15 Surprising Symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock

I’M BAAAACK!

After a whirlwind of goodbyes, packing, my host sister’s wedding, and jet lag, I returned to the United States about a month ago. Leaving Compiègne — I can finally say the name of the town on here! — was heartbreaking. I was blessed with some wonderful friends, coworkers, and students who showed me so much love and patience throughout the year. I miss them all and have kept in contact with a few since coming home.

The past month has been full of family and best friend reunions, job applications, and a weekend in my favorite American city, Boston. I’ve also gotten a heaping dose of reverse culture shock. Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t the first time I’ve had to re-adjust to American culture after being away. However, I noticed that this time around, culture shock was not this ever-present sense of not being in the same country, but this little nagging feeling that sneaked up on me when I least expected it.

I understand that my case is pretty mild since I’m coming from a Western country and returning to another Western country. Culture shock must be much more, well, shocking to people returning to the U.S. from other parts of the world. But, I still think culture shock is a fascinating subject because you learn which aspects of both cultures you take for granted and miss after they’re gone.

So without further ado, here are 15 unexpected instances of reverse culture shock that I’ve experienced in the past month.

1. Getting off the plane in the U.S. and preparing to ask the tough-looking Brooklyn-born security guard, “Pardon, madame, les toilettes sont où?

2. Doing a double take when you see an American flag.

3. Getting a weird look when you talk to salespeople in French.

4. Scouring the clothing racks in vain for a size 40.

5. Wondering why the sign in the dressing room is in English and only English.

6. Accidentally putting your bread on the dinner table instead of on your plate.

7. Being completely disappointed with yellow American cheese.

8. Getting your first restaurant bill and reminding yourself that you need to leave a tip.

9. The horrible realization that American money is really ugly.

10. Needing $1 and looking in the change pocket of your wallet.

11. That weird feeling when someone gives you a hug instead of la bise.

12. Not participating in Mass because you only remember the French responses.

13. Meeting a native French speaker, getting really excited, and hearing him say, “Please, I need to practice my English.”

14. Messaging all your French friends because YOU JUST WANT TO SPEAK FRENCH.

15. Talking like a robot for the first week because you still don’t really believe you have to speak English here.

So there you go — a summary of my life in the past month. I think I’ve mostly assimilated back into American culture, though I’m still disappointed in American cheese.

Look out for more Hundred Word Reviews and regular antics coming your way.

À la prochaine!

– Vicky

Question of the Week: What’s your most surprising culture shock moment? Tell me in the comments!