Always Advocating Alan – Why You Cannot Have a Rational Discussion with Someone on the Extreme Left or Extreme Right

| Opinion | April 12, 2018

If you are a fan of Facebook, or if you just like to engage others to learn their position on current issues, I’m betting you are finding it more difficult to engage in meaningful and civil dialog. I understand what you are going through and will attest to my having the same experience. I am a person who draws heavily on my life experiences to reach a conclusion. One instance I remember vividly occurred around mid-1970 when my family was camping with friends, at Lake Success. It turns out my buddy’s daughter was going to meet us there and he asked me to watch out for her. Well, that evening I saw her driving by and proceeded to yell out, “hey June we are over here.” When she did not seem to respond, I tried to yell louder. Suddenly it dawned on me, and I started laughing at myself, because June is deaf.

I think about that evening every time I witness someone trying to get their point across by repeating their position, only louder the second time around. Those individuals have not learned, some people cannot hear, some don’t want to hear, and some hear what they think you said, even if it is not what you said or what you are thinking. Yet, I also learned a person’s reluctance to listen to your rationale might be caused by reasons other than them being hard headed. I was taught a valuable lesson during my employment at JPL, by a very intelligent young PhD named Steve. We were having a group discussion which was beginning to sound more like an argument, when Steve recognized we were talking past one another. He interjected and asked us each to define the subject under discussion. When the participants realized we were not all talking about the same issue and agreed upon the problem we needed to solve, the argument turned into a collaborative, productive afternoon. It is also important to realize, there are individuals who have had a negative experience and their perception of reality may conflict with your impression of life. I have written a column previously about attending a cultural diversity seminar, where I learned about minority perceptions related to working at my company. These are situations where you will never be able to verbally convince the presenter they are not correct. Negative perceptions are something which can only be remedied by understanding what the person believes, and establishing your behavior in a way which will lead the presenter to change their opinion, on their own.

Even with what has been said, you will still run across the hard-headed extremist, when you are trying to initiate a meaningful discussion. They are both on the left and on the right, and can be easily found on Facebook. You know the way it goes. You post something you consider relevant and then you get responses which consist of name calling and swearing. Just this week, an individual posted an example of a convicted sex offender, in the country illegally and currently under arrest for kidnapping and molesting a minor. The response he received was to be called a racist, along with being accused of his desire to arrest and deport everyone, even though that is not what he said. On another track, I have had conversations suggesting, because of our government failing to control illegal immigration, we should show some compassion for those individuals who have been living in the country for a long period of time and have been law abiding residents for their entire stay. For that, I was accused of wanting “Open Borders,” which is far different than my position on securing the border. These are individuals who are looking for their perceived automatic trigger words, which they think give them insight into your motives and beliefs. What these situations actually reveal, are individuals who only hear what they believe support their extremist views. Meaningful dialog with them is not possible.

Most of us, however, have the desire to listen and learn. Our opinions may change over time due to increased knowledge, an increased awareness of an issue, or a personal experience. It is important not to be distracted or discouraged by the “stinkin’ thinkin’” of those with extremist views. Never give up on attempting to engage others in meaningful discussions about today’s issues, because what you learn and the conclusions you come away with, will help to shape our American democratic republic for many years to come.


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