5 Q’s to make your next political discussion more productive

"You see why I hate talking about politics during meals?"

Is it possible to have a positive exchange about politics even when we disagree?

Behind every strong political opinion is one (or more) of the five histories or habits presented below. Learning to recognize the WHY of an opinion makes it less threatening, easier to discuss, and more valuable to the conversation at-large.


  1. What am I afraid of? The question isn’t whether or not fear exists within our opinions; it’s more often a matter of WHAT it is we’re afraid of. Between our not-so-distant history of world wars, and the very present threats of terror and economic instability, we have good reasons to be afraid. And so does everybody else. But identifying more precisely why we’re afraid, and finding ways to articulate it honestly and logically, can only add value to our political discourse. Authenticity and acknowledgement-of-vulnerability are always keys to successful communication, especially among friends. If these times are as desperate as we claim, surely we are capable of sharing more than trivia and the trivial in the work of change.


  2. Who built me? We are the products of many different construction crews: our parents, our church or religion (or the absence thereof), our education, our friends, our sources of news and entertainment, our cultures, our locations, and our partners. Sometimes we explain our points-of-view with phrases like, “That’s just who I am,” or “I can’t help it,” or “That’s just the way I feel.” But our gut-feelings often come from somewhere—or from someone. Taking stock of these influences—and of why they have such an impact on us—can better illuminate our own thinking, and can help us to explain that thinking to others.

  3. What is making me angry, and why? When we find ourselves reaching a boiling point about politics, it might suggest that the issue at-hand taps into a place of hurt for us. Connecting the dots between pain, anger and politics can help us regulate our feelings so that we can do a better job of helping others hear why the issue matters so much. We don’t always have to “agree to disagree.” Sometimes we can just understand one another, and that is much easier when we first understand ourselves.

  4. What names am I called, and what names do I call others? No matter where you stand on the issue of political correctness, you would likely be surprised if you really discovered how often you rely on name-calling—in everyday life, and especially in the work of sorting out those you agree with from those you don’t. The reason this is important is that names are a dangerous shorthand for our brain, making us mentally lazy in the really important, even sacred, task of understanding others for who they truly are; and of enabling them to do the same of us. For example, we might claim that someone is “a racist” or “a misogynist,” and then assume that our work of understanding and of communication is done. But an exploration of why we feel those labels are warranted—and more importantly—of why that person might be making choices that earn the label (in your opinion)—can only serve to open up-the layers and nuances of what is surely a reality much more complex than any label.

  5. Which needs do I feel-and-fulfill? At the end of the day, government is just another tool we have created to help us navigate this shared space we call earth. Understanding our needs—where they converge, where they diverge, and what we can do about them—is what makes politics so important. Any strategies we can foster to think more openly about those needs—yours and mine—make these discussions less trivial and more productive.

So before you type that next Facebook comment or offer a retort across the lunch table, consider taking a deep breath, and give yourself space to think just a little more deeply about WHY the issue at-hand matters so much—to you and others.

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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