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Nuanced Conversations in the New Year

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Nuanced Conversations in the New Year

Eleanor Dudley, Editor-in-Chief

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We have been through the wringer. It has been a rough year politically; from the polemical presidential inauguration, to the contentious Russia investigations, to the disturbing Alabama Senate race alongside the #metoo movement… and all while living under the threat of North Korean nuclear war.

Recent conversations during holiday gatherings were noticeably strained, or silent, regarding politics. Family members and friends alike are talking past one another or not even talking at all. Facebook and Twitter are thriving as vehicles for shared aggression and outrage for those of similar minds.

But in the new year, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can aim to have nuanced conversations. We can cross ideological differences, and dig deeper to understand our neighbors, friends, family and governing officials. We can come together as Americans, connected by our ideals, values and shared humanity. How we choose to think and talk about politics is the foundation of a successful democracy and strong relationships; this is how we can find our way back to each other.

To better understand what a nuanced conversations is and how to have one, the Talisman spoke with social media consultant, Paducah City Commissioner and co-founder/host of national podcast “Pantsuit Politics,” Sarah Holland. On the podcast Holland and co-host Beth Silvers describe themselves as liberal and conservative respectively, engaging in nuanced political discussions.

“I would define a nuanced conversation as one that prioritizes either the conversation or the relationship, if it already exists, above any sort of points of wins or scoring little victories here and there, when you are really just trying to listen and learn and you are being curious, I think that is the start of something nuanced,” Holland said.

But it isn’t always easy. Having nuanced conversations requires intention, purpose and practice.  “I think that we can all fall for the siren song of righteousness in our own ears and that it’s very important to reach out to other people and to see the world with a different perspective, a broader perspective and to see where we might be right, where we might be wrong, where we might have more to learn,” Holland said.

 

Classrooms and communities

This hard work begins in classrooms and communities. Sitting in a circle of desks during a seminar, or raising hands in a classroom discussion, students have the opportunity to practice nuanced conversations everyday. In AP Language Arts with Brook Brayman, he encourages dialogue and disagreement, and teaches students to debate passionately but respectfully and develop deeper understandings of controversial subjects.

“I would actually credit Ms. Stahl, when I first came to work at Ballard Ms. Stahl taught English here and she was doing a workshop with us and she just kept saying ‘Seek first to understand’ and that really hit me,” Brayman said.

 

 

Listening to one another

At the end of the day the key to a nuanced conversation is listening. When our minds and hearts are open to others we can surpass ideological divides and partisan positions. Instead of using labels as identities and social controversies to fuel hatred, Americans can see individuals as fellow humans and work together in conversation and action.

“It’s about prioritizing either learning or the relationship with the person you are engaged with,” Holland said. “ What you don’t want to do is think that you are going to give the right statistic or share the right article and everyone is going to come around to your side, that’s not what we are trying to do here.”

The resistance includes listening. We will not save our democracy by blocking out those who disagree with us. Hatred in all forms is detrimental, regardless of if it’s coming from the right or left.

 

Social Media

One area in which we see divisive discourse is social media. This incredible communication device creates a platform for insensitivity, shame, blame and partisan outrage.

As a social media consultant and professional blogger, Holland is familiar with the tough terrain of social networks and their role in nuanced conversations. She believes that social media can be used as a platform for connection and communication, when approached from a sincere place of questioning, however it can also have the opposite effect.

“If you are posting the latest outrage over the latest political controversy, really what you are saying is ‘people who agree with me isn’t this outrageous,’ because all you are really going to do engaging with someone from a point of high emotional contact like that, over a really charged subject, is bring out people’s defensiveness and when people are defensive it’s very hard to have a good conversation,” Holland said.

 

What can you do

Through the podcast, Holland and Silvers are doing their part to contribute to the national conversation.

“We show that you can talk about these things and have hard conversations and disagree and still go on and that scoring points and winning debates is not the only way to feel better about the news,” Holland said. “ It’s empowering to feel engaged with your world and with your country, with your party, with the politics of today, not from just a place of outrage but from a place of some emotional investment and a place of empowered dialogue.”

The next generation of voters has a responsibility to engage with the issues. If we are to succeed, we must engage with nuance, empathy and understanding.

 

Human Family

In her latest book “Braving the Wilderness,” acclaimed researcher professor at the University of Houston and author of four books regarding courage, shame, and vulnerability, Brene Brown shares wisdom and truth about belonging in today’s increasingly polarized world.

“We’re going to need to intentionally be with people who are different from us. We’re going to have to sign up, join, and take a seat at the table,” Brown writes. “We’re going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain, and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of true togetherness.”

If we can find within ourselves the compassion to care about one another, we just might create the change to heal our country’s deep wounds.

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Nuanced Conversations in the New Year