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Thread: AOC on How to Argue

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    AOC on How to Argue

    Livestream: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the New Left with video Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez | SXSW 2019 - YouTube has something that I consider very insightful at 43:49. I'll repeat the full transcript since I find it difficult to summarize:
    BG: So the question is, for anybody that didn’t hear, “How do you talk to people with kind of different beliefs about racism and feminism and broader political beliefs?”

    AOC: So the way I have conversations with people of opposing beliefs is I don’t try to convince them of anything. So that’s the first thing. Stop trying to win people over. Stop trying to enter a conversation thinking that you’re going to “a-ha” them into changing their mind. And so I think that we’ve kind of lost the art of conversation. So when I enter a conversation with someone, I actually try to learn more about where they’re coming from. I actually use it as an experience to — let’s say I’m talking to someone who’s saying something really racist, and they don’t even realize that they’re saying something really racist, I ask them questions because I’m interested. I’m fascinated by that. How does that work? You know?

    But really, so I don’t do it in a way that’s like mocking, but I ask questions to kind of dig. Like when someone says, “Oh this isn’t racist.” “Why?” But we have to learn to really disarm ourselves in these conversations first of all, because we approach them with so much hostility. They get mad and we get mad and all of these things. And so part of it is emotional work. The second part of it is intention. What are you trying to get out of this conversation? If you’re just trying to argue with someone, it’s not going to work. You believe what you believe, they believe what they believe, so I think the thing that we have to do is try to have a good faith interaction of trying to learn more about where the other person comes from.

    Because often what I find, is that when I do win people over, it’s almost never in the conversation itself that I’ve won someone over, it’s that I have a conversation with someone, I ask them some critical questions, and I pretty calmly explain to them, “Well this is where I’m coming from, and this is why I believe what I believe. Why do you believe what you believe?” And you kind of leave the conversation, but very often, that person will sit on what you said. And they will sit on the fact that you respected them and gave them space. Then, very often, I’ve had interactions like that and I’ll run into that person again, a week later, a month later, et cetera and they said, “You know what? You said something that I really thought about, and I changed my mind.”

    But no one ever changes their mind in the actual acute situation of a conversation. It’s like afterwards when it kind of sits with them. But if you rush in fully armored up, attacking them and making them feel defensive, they will never listen to anything that you have to say. So it’s really about learning how we can have a conversation again, and also there’s a really important conversation about good faith and bad faith conversations. When I sense that someone is engaging in me in bad faith, I just don’t engage the conversation at all. It’s not worth my time and my energy.

    If someone is trying to put you down, or belittle you, or approach a conversation as though they are more intelligent than you, because like, “Oh no. There’s no way that someone can disagree with me and still be smart.” There’s a very condescending tone that we have in a lot of our conversations, and I think it’s important to really approach those kinds of disagreements with a lot of compassion. Because when they see — people really look at not just the logic of your argument, but how you make them feel. As much as people hate to say that, and admit it, it’s true.
    It seems like she has thought about that a lot. A bit later, she recalled about a certain mentor:
    And one of the best pieces of advice that he gave me is, “always give someone the golden gate of retreat,” which is: Give someone enough rope, give someone enough compassion, enough opportunity in a conversation for them to look good changing their mind. And it’s a really important thing to be able to do, because if you’re just like, “Oh you said this thing! You’re racist!” And now you’re forcing that person to say, “No I’m not.” Et cetera. There’s no golden gate of retreat there. The only retreat there is to just barrel right through the opposing opinion.

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    Contributor Speakpigeon's Avatar
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    Personally, I'm really not interested in trying to convince people of anything.

    I prefer diversity in everything, including ideas. I see other people as part of the Big Computer which a human society is. I input ideas and see what will come out. OK, usually not much but I did learn quite a lot even here, not least the reality of being human beyond the courtyard of my own personal experience.

    As I already said, I post to explain things to myself. Articulating your own views and ideas is the best way to explain them to yourself. Never mind other people. They can take care of themselves.

    It is also important to understand that just commenting on somebody else's post is what they are asking that you do. Actually ignoring posters is way worse than criticising what they say or even them personally, up to a point of course.

    But maybe I badly misinterpreted your post?

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    It sounds a little like Socratic.

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