Last week, we filmed the first episode of “Dumb Debates,” a series we are collaborating on with the talented video producer David Wolff. Its premise - people who fall on decidedly opposing sides of the political spectrum have friendly debates while playing party games. Our participants last week included two Liberals, one Libertarian, and one Republican.
Obviously, it was fun. Who wouldn’t have fun watching people eat spoonfuls of hot sauce while debating the Electoral College? (Are you excited to see the finished product yet?)
There was more to it than just having some fun, though. This project encompasses a major tenet of RISE - that there can be truth and validity to different perspectives, no matter how adamantly we may personally disagree with it. We learned through these games that no matter the situation, people who hold opposing political perspectives will certainly agree on something. Everyone came with strong opinions, but they also entered RISE headquarters agreeing to respect an opposing view, which was key. Every one of our four participants admitted at the end that they were walking away with something new to ponder.
When we actively try not to allow our preconceived stereotypes of who a Trump supporter or a Clinton supporter are cloud our judgment, we realize these are real people, sitting in front of us. When we start listening without an agenda in these interactions, we may actually learn something about an opposing point of view.
But what happens when we enter a dialogue without being open to respecting someone else’s point of view? Instead of coming from a place of genuine curiosity, if we are trying to persuade the other person into seeing the world as we do, we go on the defensive. Rather than successfully persuading another person, we double down on our talking points. We try to prove that our opinion is the “correct” one, which only makes our conversation partner tune out.
Yes, our opinions are inherently subjective, no matter how much we ground them in fact. Simply regurgitating facts isn’t enough. We have to be prepared to listen to understand, not just to respond. In order to do that, we have to remember that facts can be interpreted differently based on what our life experience has taught us.
This can be messy. Our Trump supporter believed that we should not raise the minimum wage, based on his own personal experiences as a small business owner. On the other side of the debate, a person may have personal experience in having to provide for an entire family on a minimum wage salary. Both of these perspectives are valid, but neither of these perspectives can be universally applied to every citizen. At this point in the debate, one usually brings up statistics that are objectively true. Armed with objective facts and as many personal perspectives as possible, we can hopefully reach a solution that is best for as many people as possible. But the first step in getting to solutions is listening - especially to those with whom we disagree.
Rise Movement is trying to creatively build those bridges between party lines - in a fun way. Politics is not just something we should be interested in during an election year. It’s not something we need to rely on the DNC or RNC to tell us to do, or how to think or feel. It’s something all of us should engage in with our own perspective, everyday, every week, every year.
That’s why we can’t wait to see the final product of Dumb Debates. We’re relieved that everyone who participated seemed to be having a good time, and hopefully everyone was able to humanize an ingrained stereotype they brought in the door with them, perhaps unconsciously, held beforehand. To move our country forward, we have to continue breaking down walls, to continue expanding our minds, and to continue having uncomfortable conversations in comfortable atmospheres. We think everyone who watches the video will be inspired by the idea that opposing views can actually discuss difficult subjects calmly.
RISE will keep on listening to all points of view and we hope you will remain open to listening with us.