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Social Gatherings Need Healthy Debate

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Monday, November 28, 2016   

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – "We respectfully agree to disagree" may be the mantra heard at office parties, family events and faith-based celebrations across the country this season, since emotions remain highly-charged for a lot of people after the presidential election.

With weeks of holiday gatherings ahead, Parisa Parsa, executive director of Essential Partners, says everyone needs to ask themselves if they're grounded enough to resist angry outbursts and frustration, and if they can listen and speak with care so they don't damage important relationships.

Parsa's tips to avoid a big conflict in social situations include recognizing the signs of polarization, agitation and strong emotion before they get out of control; practicing ways of speaking, listening and asking questions that foster sincere curiosity; and avoiding the pattern of "attack and defend."

According to Parsa, avoiding political conversations for now might be a good idea if people are feeling tense – but eventually, everyone should be able to talk about it.

"Long-term, it does our democracy, our families and ourselves a big disservice not to go to the tough stuff," she explains, "because those deeply-held values and positions come out of our personal experience."

Joan Blades agrees. She co-founded Living Room Conversations after co-launching MoveOn.org in 1998 in the wake of President Bill Clinton's impeachment. Blades encourages conversations with those who have a different opinion. She points out that debate is very beneficial.

"When we fail to talk to people with different viewpoints and just talk to people that think like us, we actually make our own viewpoints more extreme," adds Blades. "That's a disaster for having a successful democracy."

Parsa very much agrees. "When we reduce someone to their political positions, we're not able to see them fully, and we're losing out on the opportunity to relate around other things that are common concerns. When we're seeing each other in stereotypes, we're putting ourselves in a box as well."

While arguing about viewpoints doesn't usually change anyone's mind, Parsa points out that you can't have a full relationship with someone unless you can talk things out.

The late psychologist Marshall Rosenberg developed a globally recognized four-step approach to nonviolent communications: "Observe & recap," "Describe emotions, not positions," "Identify needs," and "Make a request."

Rosenberg's work is widely taught and shared through the Center for Nonviolent Communication; another rich source for information is the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation.




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