On a hot summer morning, I made an off-handed comment to a friend about climate change — likely complaining about the heat, something I am known to do. But then I got an unexpected response. My friend replied, “Yeah, I don’t really think humans are responsible for climate change.”
Suffice it to say, the 45 minute car ride that followed was uncomfortable. Occasionally supported by friends in the backseat, I argued emotionally with the driver.
How could he be so ignorant? What made him think he was smarter than the scientific consensus? How could he be so careless with the future of our planet?
And he argued right back. Both of us emerged from the car at the end of the ride frustrated. My happy summer day had been scarred by an argument that I had far from won.
A tiny part of me was disappointed in this friend that I considered intelligent and rational. My response to his statement denying culpability for climate change was emotional, unnecessary and unhelpful. I had not changed his mind. If anything, I had solidified his opinion that climate change activists are chronic overreactors obsessed with the end of the world.
I look back on that conversation with regret; I could have been a better advocate for what I believe, and more importantly, I could have been a better friend.
Many of us have examples of conflicts like this, and they are only exacerbated by an ever increasing polarization of opinions in our country. Our blood boils when we are faced with opposing opinions on controversial topics like abortion rights, immigration and healthcare.
But what happens if it is someone you love who is on the other side of the spectrum?
I recently came across a comic in The Lily titled “10 steps to take when talking politics with someone you disagree with this holiday season.”
I read through the few steps, which included “be an engaged listener,” “plainly state what you believe, and offer a value you might share” and “share a story about how this story impacts you or someone you love.”
The information in the comic was based on the LARA Method for Tense Talks, a conflict resolution strategy from Stanford that stands for Listen, Affirm, Respond, Ask Questions.
I reflected on my conversation over the summer and realized that I had broken every one of those rules and disregarded every guidepost towards a productive conversation. I let my emotions get the best of me. If I had spoken calmly and respectfully, sharing my side of the story clearly, I might have actually made an impact on my friend.
Or maybe not — but at least I would have had a better chance. It feels easy and harmless to get angry at a stranger or someone you do not like about a questionable opinion, especially on the internet. Though it gets more complicated when someone you care about happens to disagree with you on such a fundamental level.
From this conversation and others I have had with coworkers, parents and friends, I have found little success in convincing someone of my point of view by yelling or furiously googling statistics to prove the other person wrong.
It is far more effective to listen, try to understand and speak with kindness. That way, people will remember my words rather than my reaction.