Talking past each other

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Last week I posted this essay at dkos in reaction to some of the communication barriers I was both seeing and experiencing there. The other day Alma suggested that I post it here. I thought about it and decided that I would. Thanks Alma!

I had a powerful learning experience during the Presidential Primaries about how we so often talk past one another. Lately I’ve been thinking alot about that lesson and seeing it in my own communication as well as in my reading on the blogs.

So I thought I’d share the experience to see if it can help some of us open up a bit to hear the views of those with whom we disagree.

I am a member of a book group that includes mostly white women in our 50’s and 60’s. During the primaries, we were split pretty evenly between those who supported Clinton and those who supported Obama. I was one of the later.

One night late in the primary season a member of the group who was a Clinton supporter (someone I have tremendous respect for) talked about the sexism she was seeing in the campaign. It was very painful to her and she cried as she talked about it. This came as a bit of a surprise to me. While I had heard accusations of sexism, I hadn’t really “felt” it myself.

When my friend was done talking, I said that I had seen and felt some of that same pain about racism in the campaign from those of us who were Obama supporters. Her response was “What racism?”

I was stunned…she hadn’t even seen it?!!!! But then, I had to reflect that I hadn’t seen what was so painful to her either.

It all made me realize that there is something about how our minds work. We take a position and then it seems that we literally don’t see how things sound from the other side.

Close to that same time, I had a similar experience watching Bill Clinton on the campaign trail. As an Obama supporter, I heard his words as mean and vindictive – even though he was doing so in an “ever so rational” kind of way. All of the sudden I realized that he was the same Bill Clinton who I had supported vehemently against the “vast right wing conspiracy” only a few years ago. And in that moment, I got just a glimpse of why the other side got so angry with him during all of that.

I am not saying ANY of this in an attempt to speak for/against Obama or for/against the Clintons. Its just that I think when we are communicating during a disagreement, we seem blind to the way our loyalty to one side is heard completely differently by those on the other side. This most often results in both sides feeling angry, accused and unheard. But since we’re blind to how it feels on the other side, we think its only ourselves that feel that way.

Yesterday in The Field’s diary, a couple of people here at dkos had a very honest conversation about this. I hope they won’t mind me quoting them. I think its a perfect illustration of what I’m trying to describe.

Al and others seem to be implying that (30+ / 0-)

anyone who criticizes Obama’s policies really want him to fail, and they’re secret right-wing trolls or whatever from the poutrage club.

by slinkerwin

Because some people act like that (53+ / 0-)

and if they want people to stop doing that, they should stop calling people Obamabots and all that other crap. I’m not referring to you slinkerwink, but there are plenty of people who do that.

by freakofsociety

I’ve never actually seen a post (15+ / 0-)

where someone has resorted to calling a name like “Obamabots”, without themselves first being pilloried as rightwingers, wanting-Obama-to-fail types, DINOs, progressives (yes I’ve been called that as a disparagement), and other things several times in a thread.

I have seen, and experienced, the opposite sequence literally hundreds of times.

Just saying…

by Jim P

Really? My perception is the opposite n/t (9+ / 0-)

by freakofsociety

I’m not saying it hasn’t happened. (12+ / 0-)

I just haven’t seen it nearly as much as the other way around.

And my heavens! I’ve seen people say that Krugman is putting out his view because he hasn’t had sex for decades, he is a PUMA(?!!?), he’s pissed Edwards didn’t win and he wants to destroy Obama, he’s a whiny brat… everything but “here’s why his reasons are wrong.”

You’ve seen that kind of thing I’m sure, “here’s why (say) Geithner should go, or this plan can’t work” with a reasoned statement followed by “you just want Obama to fail” kind of message. Certainly no refutation gets written, just some denigration.

Maybe you just happened onto someone who’d gotten a lot of that recently. I know it got to me a few days ago and I started arguing.

Still, I didn’t disparage the persons motives beyond telling them that love can be blind. Never did get a rebuttal on any factual point, either.

by Jim P

Well I’ve seen it more the opposite way (6+ / 0-)

And I think people are just saying things about Krugman because honestly people do quote him like he is god around here. They shouldn’t do that. I don’t agree with the insults hurled towards him but I do understand where it’s coming from.

I’ve seen the Obamabot comments come first more often. I suppose we could argue about that but we are probably never going to agree because of our perspective.

by freakofsociety

Well, not to nitpick (12+ / 0-)

and I guess it does go to perspective and reason, but I’ve heard this “people quote him like a god” a lot, and actually people quote him like an intelligent person with a serious reality-based critique. It’s not like we’re waving a totem around and expecting everyone to kneel. We’re looking for a reasoned rebuttal.

See, it’s that dismissive assumption, that “let’s not look at the argument, let’s minimize it’s weight instead” kind of thing. Even at the cost of shameful and shameless attacks on a fellow humans integrity in the complete absence of evidence.

Anyway, thanks for replying.

I’ll not go any further on this, except, of course, to consider any reply you might have.

by Jim P

But people do do this!!! (13+ / 0-)

I’ve seen it before. I don’t debate Krugman or economical matters much because I don’t know that much about any of it. I’m merely talking about what I’ve seen. And then if someone says they don’t like him people get really mad and if people disagree with him and offer something else it is called an attack. I’m not meaning everyone who quotes Krugman does that either. Please make the distinction.

And why is Geithner attacked and criticized on here yet for Krugman to be criticized or anything it is shameful? Krugman is a columnist in a high profile newspaper, he most likely writes these things knowing he is going to be criticized for them. People need to stop shielding him from it. It’s a bit silly.  

And these people who do this with Krugman then act get all nasty to the people who do try and shield Obama. The double standard is ridiculous. If you don’t believe in hero worship then you have to apply that standard to everyone. I’m getting a bit tired of it.

by freakofsociety

I want to thank freakofsociety and Jim P for having such an enlightened conversation with each other about their different perspectives. I think this happens all the time in our conversations without being brought out in the open.

I’m not sure what the answer is to being able to overcome these kinds of blocks to productive communication. But for me, the first step has been to acknowledge that it happens. And to remind myself that people on the other side of the issue hear things very differently than I do. Beyond that, a little “walk a mile in my shoes” would probably go a long way as a remedy. But I won’t claim much high ground in being very good at that…yet.    


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  1. at dkos, both buhdy and addisnana had some very helpful things to say about how/why this happens. I hope you’ll take a look.

  2. right now the Audacity of Hope, and he talks a lot about this. I’m finding that I disagree about a lot of his philosophy but it is okay. He is a believer in democracy, and in participation as a citizen. If you are a progressive or lefty that’s okay your part of a coalition not a fan.  

    Part of it is empathy, allowing yourself to empathize with others. Each of us comes to the net with different experiences and realities. When a society gets as polarized s ours it’s hard to keep perspective after all we all know how to fix it,,,lol. I find I do better if I address the issues and leave the personal out, because really they are the same issues that repeat. Over the years you realize that the names change the issues remain and a pol is a pol.  

    • Alma on April 3, 2009 at 21:47

    is VERY insightful.

    I think we do have to measure in what we think the other persons intent is.  I know I’ve seen tons of comments that I have taken very differently than some that have responded to the comment.  

    So many times people seem to be saying basically the same thing, but not realizing it because they seem to be stuck on a teenie, tiny, part that the other person seems to be reading differently than the meaning the poster intended.

    I also think how we are emotionally feeling at the time alters how we interpret comments.  I know when I’m cranky, I’m more likely to interpret something as being sarcastic, or negative, instead of what I think the real intent is when I go back later.

    • dkmich on April 5, 2009 at 16:08

    After 30 years of Reagan rule in which I include the neoliberal Clinton and Obama, I have no patience left. Some of us voted for the change promised because we believed this country was on the wrong track and desperately needed a change “in direction”, not a change in personalities.

    For me, blogging is not an academic exercise in discourse or a social tool as in Twitter or Facebook.   I got involved in blogging in 04 at dailykos because it was about “real” change and Howard Dean.  Kos himself was full of fire and brimstone, taking our country back, and putting the country back on the right track.

    The destruction of this country and the principles which it is suppose to represent really pisses me off, and I have no patience for people who tolerate, support or enable that destruction.   I look at my three grandsons, and I want to know what all these twitterers and twatterers are doing to the blogs, the only hope we ever had to organize to take our country back and help assure some prospect of a future for our kids.  

    I think miscommunication is a problem, but I think it is more basic than that.   There are those personalities who “go with the flow”, and then there are those personalities that prefer to “swim upstream”.   The go with the flow group really doesn’t like it when the upstreamers create a wake in their idyllic ponds. They react with displeasure at having their peaceful float disrupted, which puts Newton’s Third Law Of Motion into play.  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and off we go.  For all of these reasons, I find the participants at OpenLeft and Docudharma to be heads and shoulders above the participants at other blogs.    

    • k9disc on April 5, 2009 at 20:48

    I think this is the greatest problem area when it comes to talking about politics.

    This comes from the meyers briggs test, but can be broken down easily into Big Picture vs Step by Step thinking, or generalism vs specificism, if I can create a couple new words of my own.

    I am a generalist, thinking about the big picture – I see trends and connections quite easily – I’m rather good at it, to speak frankly.

    I can grab the main ideas of paragraphs and lines of argument very quickly.

    People who are Subjective thinkers, those that think step by step, specifists (lol) hinge on the bit by bit. They see all the tiny pieces.

    Jim P is a generalist and sees the big picture – hence his penchant for taking on the corporate agenda. It’s a no-brainer to him. How could you not see it?

    FOS sees the little pieces and builds his/her understanding on the collection of facts.

    It is tremendously difficult to bridge those two understandings because JP can’t stand the dependence on little facts, and FOS can’t stand to not have all the facts.

    I hope that makes sense, cuz I could spend all day trying to parse this out and just make everyone more confused.


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