How to have a conversation

Isolation has got me having a lot of conversations with myself.

I’m sure you are all in a similar situation where the stresses of quarantine and self isolation has you speaking to yourself more than usual. Maybe you’re reflecting on your career, relationships or just generally other issues that plague our society other than Covid-19. When you delve deep into the rabbit hole that is YouTube you never knew how passionate you felt about The Slow Food Movement (Look it up).

As humans it’s very easy for us to become essentially slaves to our own biases and prejudices. I am a huge believer that we are all products of our environments and societal upbringings which undoubtedly shapes our world view and perception of the reality around us. And it begs the question “Are our own experiences representative of the world around me?” And of course this can go in either direction. Sometimes yes it is, of course it is. But I think that this complacency can also be a bit dangerous. If we live our lives believing our own experiences are true and can be applied to the greater population we run into the risk of having a very skewed perception of society. Of course if you experience something and you believe it to be true then of course it is true, and it’s true to you. But it will be wrong of us to generalise that this is how the world is and how it functions in every facet of society. If we believe that we are all individuals, each with a unique “lived experience” this idea of generalising our own experience doesn’t fit that narrative.

This is not to say that there are pockets of real societal injustices that do need to be combatted. For example, sexual, race and age discrimination are all problems that affect different institutions across multiple countries and societies. But can we then say that these are representative of an over-arching and higher form of discrimination taking place in that specific area.

Now you’re probably wondering how this all relates to having conversations with people. Don’t be rude, I’ll get to that. But before that, the reason why I write this blog is never to convince anyone to think how I do. I have conceded I will never be able to de-programme the ketchup loyalists out there. Instead, it’s to invoke thought and conversation to those who read it. I am ALWAYS happy to talk about and debate anything that I’ve written as long as it’s respectful and coming from a place of genuine interest and understanding. I’m even more interested to have these conversations with people who may disagree with anything I have written. I am big into hearing and listening to people with opposing views. If you’re constantly listening to people that are just confirming your own opinions then we start riding out that wave of confirmation bias which really doesn’t help anyone. Part of living in a democracy and a society where we have free speech, is that we are able to listen to other people’s ideas. You are never going to get anywhere in life if you’re surrounded by a bunch of Yes Men. And this comes back to the idea of individuality and uniqueness of experience that we all possess. Always be open to the fact that the person speaking to you may know something you don’t. And when you go in with this mindset, if you are really interested in having a productive conversation and learning something, you will come away from any interaction feeling a lot more enlightened even if you don’t agree with someone.

This is all in contention with the “cancel culture” we are seeing. With social media being so prevalent in society where a lot of our opinions are subject to scrutiny and ridicule we are now at the risk of being de-platformed if our views are seen to be hurtful in any way. This isn’t me saying that everyone should be free to say whatever they like without repercussions. Of course not, there is some truly hateful and despicable ideologies and speech out there that should be contended. But don’t conflate these people with people who hold opposing political views to your own. In these past few weeks I’ve had a bit of a realisation. And I want to be authentic in everything I am talking about so will tell you exactly what I have been experiencing recently. And sorry but it is to do with Donald Trump. This is probably the best and most extreme example I can give.

It is no secret, well to me at least and a lot of my friends, that social media seems to be dominated by people who all tend to fall on the left side of the political spectrum. And of course this is to do with the people I follow and the fact that a lot of people my age tend to identify more with leftist values and ideologies. This is also relevant to the UK also though, we were all shocked in the most recent election when the Conservatives won convincingly when on Twitter most people seemed to be condemning them. And this is a key example of how my experience wasn’t representative of the wider political landscape of the UK. It was because of this that I wanted to look more into conservative politics and why they had so much support. Am I just being brain washed by the sentiments I am seeing online or do I really support the policies that are being put forward by politicians on the left? I can honestly say that doing my own research not only makes me feel more comfortable with the Tories being in power but it did allow me to make my own mind up about my own political views because I really do believe that a lot of it was being shaped by social media. I was being force fed all these soundbites of what the Tories are, mainly by people on the left, but really what I should’ve been doing was researching and analysing everything I was seeing. Now, am I a Tory? HEEELLLLLLLLL NO. But I by no means hate them as much as some people do which in myself gives me some sort of peace and comfort as we move forward into a new phase of British history. Regardless of politics I want this country to succeed.

Now, bringing this back to Trump. It is safe to say that he is probably the most divisive human on the planet right now. And I thought I knew everything he was about, but again all I knew were the comments people made about him online. And before I get into this, I have no stake in American politics for the most part. Even though I spend a good amount of time there I think it would be wrong for me to wade in on American politics as if I know what I am talking about. I am not a Trump hater nor am I a Trump supporter. I just really wanted to know why people supported him and if he was as deplorable as people make him out to be. I am under no illusions that of course Trump has made some very questionable comments, and his character can very much be put into question. However, it became fascinating to me when I watched videos of black conservatives saying that Trump has “cracked the black vote” and has done more for “black America” than Obama and probably the one that shocked me the most, that he is perhaps the most “Pro-black” President the country has ever had. All these opinions in direct contrasts of the multitude of racist accusations thrown at him. And I am not saying I agree with these sentiments by any stretch, all I am saying is that it is interesting how different the discourse is when you stray away from the echo chamber of Twitter and look a bit deeper into why people are voting for this man.

So how does this all tie in with having conversations? I guess when I say conversations I am maybe more talking about debates. If you have an opinion, you should ALWAYS be prepared to back this opinion up. Whether it’s with factual evidence, experiences or just feeling. We all formulate our opinions on different parameters which is okay. I believe both experiences, and facts matter when talking about controversial topics but I do think to a certain extent in order to have a productive conversation at some point you do need to put your feelings to one side. Your feelings, and feeling passionately about something, can well be the reason why you decide to talk or debate someone but your emotions shouldn’t govern the conversation. If you really want to have a productive conversation and come up with solutions to problems, a lot of the time, your feelings have to be put aside. Take parenting for example. As a parent you are probably going to make a lot of decisions that may upset your child. But as a parent it’s your job to make those tough choices and do things for them that will benefit them in the long run whether they like it or not. Having said this though I do believe there are ways to incorporate feelings and emotions into an argument or debate effectively. Demonising or criticising the other person I assure you isn’t the way. Harking back to the original sentiment of this post we owe it to each other to recognise that there are things we are going to disagree on but we can still have a respectful and civil conversation about it. Especially in times like this, where as an entire planet we are experiencing a global struggle, we should be working to come together instead of using it as a vehicle to strike down people’s political or societal outlooks.

I really do urge you to look into researching and looking at people that may be very different to you on an intersectional level or a political level and really just try and understand the other side of the argument. Because if you do this you will either confirm your own positioning which is great, or maybe be swayed into a different way of thinking which is also great. I just implore you to always be willing to rationalise your position in a non-confrontational and open way whilst also be willing to listen to people with opposing viewpoints. I may be naive and maybe you’re all already doing this but with the amount of “No Tories” I see on people’s bios and the rhetoric coming from social media I am not entirely sure this is the case. We always preach trying to create a society of acceptance and tolerance, this should be right across the board surely. The media in general plays a huge role in shaping collective perceptions on people or political and social issues. We see this through photoshopped images, cleverly edited videos and just overt bias in written news articles. Always seek context and don’t blindly believe a journalist you’ve never heard of. Also, understand that there will be people “similar” to you who will have a completely different way of thinking. It is wrong to assume that someone thinks a certain way based on their appearance or socio-economic background.

To summarise, ask yourself if your opinions are yours or if they are something that has been fed to you by external sources and understand that you have your own biases. Always rationalise your own views and be willing to listen to others. Don’t demonise those with opposing views and just try and do your own research and come to your own conclusions. If you call someone, racist, ageist, sexist or any other kind of “ist” chances are they’ll be far less inclined to listen to you.

If I have said anything here that you disagree with or maybe need further clarification on I would love to speak to you! DM me, email me, call me (actually don’t do that).