One Simple Trick to Improve Our Public Discourse

Photo from Kat Boogaard @KAT_BOOGAARD

All too often, especially in this current political climate of the country, hyperbole and character assassination rules the discourse in which we engage ourselves. No longer are disagreements simply that — disagreements. Instead, differences in opinion are now treated as a character or moral flaw against the other party. I allude this article to politics, because that’s where this is most prevalent and obvious, but this can still be attributed to any scenario. I believe the state of our discourse can be boiled down to and remedied by 1 simple mindset change: assume good motives of the party with which you disagree. If you can remind yourself that the person that disagrees with you on healthcare policy does so because they think it’s more effective — not because they’re evil and want everyone to die — then you can actually have a productive conversation.

If you are active on social media, you’re probably aware of how much of a dumpster fire it is for our public discourse…it’s disheartening to see the way that people talk to each other due to political differences (or any differences for that matter). Social media created an avenue for people to say things to each other that they would never say to someone in person because of the ability to hide behind a computer screen. To take the unfortunately common examples, you most likely see Republicans called Nazis and Democrats called Communists on a regular basis. Neither of these are true, obviously, but the five-second self-satisfaction of getting likes and retweets outweighs the desire to have a civil and possibly productive conversation. The latter just isn’t as fun as the former. This is an unfortunate habit that needs to be broken if we want to improve our discourse.

As I stated earlier, hyperbole rules the day. It seems rare to read a conversation between disagreeing parties without encountering exaggerated character attacks in subsitution for substantive input. These attacks are intellectually lazy and the first person to deploy them has lost the battle. Again, if you can train yourself to attribute good motives to the parties you are talking with, there is no need to call them nazis, communists, etc., because the premise upon which they are basing their argument comes from a place of wanting to help, not hurt. I promise, the vast majority of people who hold beliefs, hold them because they want to help. If you disagree with that statement, you probably live in an echo chamber and don’t talk to very many people outside your own bubble, to be straightforward. Most people are good people.

This remedy isn’t a difficult one to train yourself with. The vast, vast majority of people do want to do good, and their belief system is a reflection of that. Next time you find yourself having a conversation online or face-to-face with a person who holds opposing beliefs, ask yourself, “do they hold this position because they think it will help more people than my position, or do they hold that position because they hate people and want to see them suffer?” I guarantee you 99.99% of the time, it will be the former.

Once you can train yourself to immediately assume good motives of the other party anytime you talk to someone, character assassinations and exaggerations become unnecessary. If the person that disagrees with you on economic policy or healthcare policy does it from a place of wanting to help, there is no need to call them evil anymore — it reverts back to what it truly is…a disagreement about how best to help.

I know much of this was in reference to politics, but it really can be used for any situtation. I’m also aware that social media is not real life and that only a certain percentage of the population is on it — this doesn’t mean that the percentage of the population that is active on it isn’t a significant amount — because it is a significant amount. It’s well over enough to shape and transform the nature of our communication. And, from what I’ve seen, the impact that social media has had is very negative and has exacerbated our problems. Remember, most people are good, and if we can get back to believing that, we can improve how we debate with each other.



Hello! My name is Kyle and I graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor’s in Supply Chain Management.

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Kyle Mulka

Hello! My name is Kyle and I graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor’s in Supply Chain Management.