Do you want to “make community” in your surroundings? The first three steps are simple… but have surprising results.
Listening is always the most important thing in a conversation. This is true to such an extent that the result of an online discussion can be predicted by the rhythm and the shape of the message thread. It’s not “protocol,” it’s not hiding your own ideas if someone happens to feel offended by having different values or context—the much-discussed “political correctness.” It’s listening and listening alone, in person and online.
You can discuss with peers with a very different ideology whether talking about gender is a bad idea, whether feminism has lost its way or whether human rights contain a trap. We can discuss “universal income” with all its twists and turns, and not be persuaded by contrary ideas. It doesn’t matter. If there was listening, if everyone read and understood the other’s arguments, if no one set malicious rhetorical traps or jumped to ad hominem attacks, even if no one was persuaded by the other, the result will be positive. Everyone will have learned something and will respect and better understand others with all their difference.
And how is that manifested in daily life, in person? In a very simple golden rule: two people never talk at the same time. If someone interrupts or breaks into the conversation, it’s preferable, if you’re the one who’s arguing, to be quiet and wait to come back in where possible. It’s frustrating, certainly, but it’s more frustrating to accept that it’s not possible converse or learn or transmit anything by talking over people. Yes, this is just the opposite of the culture of trash TV debate, the first piece of the dreadful culture of adherence. And online, we have to assume that in 140 characters, we can’t discuss or learn anything, only exchange slogans or get mixed up in very long, tense threads in which no one is going to hear any argument that contributes anything to him/her.
And underlying it all, whether online or in person, there’s a ethical principle: either the person we’re talking with matters more to us that what we’re talking about—and therefore, more than “being right”—or we’re not in a conversation, but a battle. And that’s something different, which has its place, but it obviously doesn’t make community, or have a place at a family meal, or between work colleagues, or in a online debate.
- Listening is the most important thing. Don’t let two people talk at the same time. It’s preferable to be quiet after being disrupted than raise the tone or ignore the person who interrupted… even if it’s frustrating.
- Conversation needs its own times and spaces, because it’s fed by arguments and references. Short messages, tweets, and 30-second sound bites create spaces that make discussion impossible and reduces it to a more or less ritual battle between slogans. This is pure culture of adherence.
- The other person matters more than “being right” or being able to vent by pouring out your own arguments.