Yesterday a friend asked a question on Facebook. Hers was more topical, but I can put it in a general way: how do you stick up for something you believe in without seeming like you're argumentative or looking down on other people?
That can be tough. In any case where there are sharp divisions based on an issue or identity, it can be really difficult to engage people in conversations without opening a proverbial can of squicky things.
I can't give anyone a definitive answer. But I have talked about a range of hard subjects, in communities which (mostly) manage to listen instead of yelling. It's not always possible, but there are things that help.
I listed several of them for my friend. I'll list some here too.
- Cultivate the ability to listen well.
- Cultivate the ability to disagree calmly and with respect.
- Speak as honestly as you can.
- Only speak for yourself.
- Are you listening to me? Only speak FOR YOURSELF. Don't make generalizations. Don't talk about your friend who had that one thing happen that one time. Definitely don't talk about something you read on the internet. Talk about your own experience.
- Be willing to say you don't understand.
- Be willing to admit when you are wrong and make apologies.
- Learn to see value in diverging points of view.
- Learn how to see the value in people, even when you seriously disagree with a person's point of view.
- When someone makes a good point, say it out loud. Even when you are disagreeing with that person on other points.
- Remember to express love and appreciation, especially where there is potential for conflict.
- Don't take things personally.
- If you find yourself taking something personally, shush. Get away from the keyboard.
- Give people the benefit of the doubt. If you need clarification on what someone means, ask for it calmly.
- Be humble.
It's a prodigious list, and it's not exhaustive. These are things that, from my own experience, enable conversations rather than flame wars.