I’ve been struggling for awhile now with how to engage others in a civil conversation. And, just to be clear, this started even before the election, although that particular political event did nothing to alleviate the anxiety I had surrounding the issue.
Perhaps this discomfort comes because my friend circle is both wide and deep. I know a lot of conservatives. I know a lot of liberals. I know a lot of people who identify as neither, and I know a lot of people who qualify as both, depending on which issue we’re debating.
And while we have conversations about the issues that touch us, I fail to know how to best engage in that most rare of discussions — that one that allows them to understand my point of view and me to understand theirs.
I want to explain how I know what I know and why I believe what I believe, but I find myself failing to do that even when I’m just mulling the issue with myself.
I know that I love people and the environment. I know that I think women should have the right to choose what is best for their bodies. I know that I think all people should have access to safe and affordable health care regardless of their income level, their religion, or any of the other potential differentiators. And I know that I am willing to pay more in taxes so that people who bring home less income that I do can access these things.
When I share these opinions and people ask why I feel that way, I fall back on the anecdotal, because to me, that is real and tangible.
Governmental programs helped me and my wife when our children were born. We were young — just out of college — and didn’t have the means to support them properly. We wouldn’t have eaten a whole lot then, if not for programs like WIC. And my first job — that of a social worker — would not have even existed if not for the government ensuring it did.
I think about one of the most overwhelming moments of my life, when our son needed to be flown immediately after birth to an out-of-state hospital that could provide services not provided by the facility where he was born. We would have been forced into bankruptcy if not for the financial assistance the government provided us. That situation cemented my belief that no parent should have to contemplate, “How much will this cost?” when making life or death decisions.
But not all of my beliefs are impacted by personal experience. I also believe that we only have one planet, and thus we must use this one life we live to make it better for our children and the generations that follow then. Once the resources on the planet are gone, they’re gone. Thus far, no magical other planet that we can just inhabit has appeared. As for Colonizing the moon and/or Mars? That sounds great but think about the amount of resources we would need just to get there. If the Earth runs out of the resources to get a spaceship to the moon, we’re not just going to get there and colonize it.
And other times, the issues that I hold to my heart are both something I have not experienced and something I have. For example, I care about women, who are misrepresented in this world and who do not have the equality they deserve. I see my wife face this, but because I have a penis, I do not experience it firsthand.
This leads me to also question how I can best discuss other issues that I witness but do not experience firsthand. How should I address immigrants’ rights? Nationalism? Racism? Economic inequality?
I struggle with communicating these things out loud sometimes because I get tongue-tied.
Surely I am not alone in being unsure of how to affect change through quality conversation. So, that leads to the next question: how do I connect with others who want to have these meaningful conversations and are willing to work to achieve that?
My answer is this: Every Sunday, I will post a question on my Instagram account (@gowestcoffee.) And then you can post your response in the comments, as we work with the hashtag #GoWestConversations. But I don’t want you to just stop at a comment or a tag. Take the conversation further, into your daily life.
Talk about it at your dinner table, at work, on the bus, with people you know or don’t know or want to know. However you decide to implement it, have the conversation. In real life. But most importantly, and above all else, be civil. Tough conversations demand civility. Wherever your conversations happen. Whether online, or in person.
We’ve got to lead by example, and I think we can do that in this space for us to share our common humanity and common thoughts and feelings. We can push against one another, in a loving and constructive way. We can say what is on our minds. We can dig deep into our reasons for our thoughts. We can admit when we don’t understand or are stuck and need a nudge in the right direction.
And we can do it all with a cup of coffee in hand.
Eric has a long list of titles, but he’s got them organized in the order that matters most to him — husband, father, son, friend, graduate student, and coffee geek. When he’s not dedicating himself to his family and friends, Eric can be found studying sustainability in a great coffee shop.