If you have strong political views, at some point you have probably gotten into a heated discussion with someone who holds opposing views. Most likely, at the end of the conversation, you both walked away feeling exasperated and angry, and neither of you were ready to consider the other’s perspective. Nearly everyone has had an interaction like this, and it’s usually pointless. To avoid dead-end conversations in the future, we need to grasp the fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives, as well as properly judge when to engage someone in conversation.

Political ideologies are on a spectrum, and you can be to the left on some issues and to the right on others. However, the overall difference is this: liberals prioritize equality and helping others, while conservatives put their families first. Depending on whom you ask, you can see either as nobler. However, without understanding this, it will be impossible to progress toward a compromise.

According to research, fear usually makes people more conservative. Most conservatives were raised surrounded by people with similar beliefs and socio-economic status, making them more reluctant to change. Also, because of this, conservatives are more likely to think of their family’s needs before others’. Liberals, on the other hand, have likely grown up experiencing more diversity and hardship. Statistically, liberals are less happy with their lives and therefore think of ways in which the world can be improved, striving for a better experience for all.

As a left-wing writer, I’m learning how to appeal to an audience of mostly conservatives. I know I have to craft my arguments carefully to make readers care about an issue as much as I do. If I were writing about climate change, for example, I would have better luck convincing a conservative to take action by mentioning the financial and physical toll it would take on their family. If I only discussed the toll it takes on minorities or foreign countries, the conservative reader would likely dismiss my argument.

After recognizing the ideological differences, it is also essential to judge when to start a discussion. I can understand people who would rather avoid someone from the opposing side altogether. Sometimes, there is no point in wasting time and energy on someone who will never change their mind. Nor do I support debates for the fun of it where one debater is usually goading the other for sport. However, when you are trying to make an actual change, such as speaking to a government official or representative, having the right talking points is crucial. Therefore, activists and lobbyists need to understand and appeal to the values of their opponents.

It is as essential to know when to avoid the conversation altogether. If someone asks you to “debate” for fun, it’s always best to decline. People who do this are usually only looking to validate their point of view and have no intention of exchanging ideas. A recent example of such toxic behavior is the “Prove Me Wrong” Panel with Congressman Dan Crenshaw, which took place on Monday, Nov. 4. Such events only deepen the divide between Americans and rile up supporters of one side. A better serving event would have been a simple discussion of policy and issues, using facts and figures to support his arguments rather than denouncing opposers’ comments.

As a liberal, I completely understand the frustration of talking to conservatives about everyday issues, particularly equal rights. Sometimes when trying to come up with a good argument, I sit back and think to myself, “How do I convince this person to care about other people?” However, putting aside our frustration and anger when it matters is how we decrease hate and division and make actual change. When it comes to creating policy or law at a federal, local or even campus level that will affect each of our daily lives, having productive discussions is crucial.

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