This article appeared in the October 05, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 10/05 edition

How to have better arguments in a divisive time

Tony Dejak/AP
A Trump supporter and a protester exchange views near the site of this year’s first presidential debate in Cleveland Sept. 29, 2020. Organizations promoting civil discourse stress the importance of understanding the intent behind others’ views.
Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

When the framers waxed hopeful about “a more perfect Union,” they surely didn’t expect popular unanimity on issues of national concern. But today American disunity seems to be deepening even during the kind of crisis that might once have been expected to unite.  

Fundamental differences have swelled since before 2020 and probably won’t evaporate soon

“The point of American civic life is not to resolve these tensions,” write Caroline Hopper and Laura Tavares in a 2019 Greater Good Magazine story that’s been making the rounds. “Rather, we need to understand their origins and grow smarter about engaging them.” 

The writers are with the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program and with Facing History and Ourselves, respectively. Those are two of the organizations collaborating on the Better Arguments Project.

What they prescribe is not just empathy – know the context of another’s views, listen actively, open up and be vulnerable. They call for more. “Take winning off the table,” they write. Drop the idea that one side must win at the other’s expense. And “be open to transformation.”

A story in The Guardian describes the friendship that an evangelical activist and an LGBTQ-marriage advocate found through the “depolarizing group” Braver Angels. Through exposure, they came to see each other as OK people committed to opposing causes. 

Too pat? Some in the story’s comment thread dismiss the amity, noting that hard-liners often seek to marginalize others – such as trans and nonbinary people – out of existence. But smarter engagement is a start.

“People have to sit with some discomfort,” said Kirk Schneider, a Braver Angels moderator, “if we’re going to have sustainable peaceful coexistence with one another.”


This article appeared in the October 05, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 10/05 edition
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