What Are You Reading…On Dialogue

While having dinner tonight, something slightly upsetting happened. I was sitting with another teacher, talking about a variety of topics, when the conversation moved to politics. She mentioned how much she likes Donald Trump, saying he seems thoughtful and is willing to take a global perspective when making decisions. After inquiring into what led her to these conclusions, I mentioned that I find him to have strong ideological commitments to the free market, small government, and self-aggrandizement. Immediately following this, she stood up, saying “You have your opinions, I have mine, so the point is moot.” Without another word, she walked off.

I’m not afraid of contentious discussions, but the rapidity with which she moved from warm to cold shocked me, especially given the banality of the statement that provoked the response (Trump has voiced support for those ideals many times in the past—and for the opposing ideals at others). The event left me wondering what makes dialogue so difficult at times, and whether the social conversation democracy is predicated on is even possible. Those questions have not yet been answered, and may be unanswerable, but there is clear evidence that having a dialogue is getting harder. It is cliché these days to say that the political parties cannot get along; talking politics at work or in public is often discouraged; and fewer individuals know people with significantly different political opinions. It is often to the advantage of one side to not have a discussion, and without a strong commitment to having that discussion, it never occurs. A solution is not readily apparent, since it would need to begin with a dialogue that would likely encounter the same problems listed above. Though I imagine I am already preaching to the converted in writing about this topic for the APA Blog, perhaps we need to take a moment to remind ourselves what dialogue adds to our lives.

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