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Winning a Political Argument

There is an old saying, “a man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still”. This statement contains great truth: people don’t easily change their minds.

I can’t think of a single occasion that I changed somebody’s mind about something important. I also can't think of many times that I changed my mind after an argument. It could be that I am closed-minded and a bad arguer, except that this happens to everyone. 

This stems from confirmation bias, which states that we are inclined to interpret information in a way that supports our beliefs. We have a bias towards things that confirm our worldview.

How many arguments have you engaged in over politics, religion, family, or just about any subject. You can expect these conversations to have little effect on changing another person’s mind. Does this mean that debates, discussions, or arguments are pointless? That all depends…

If you are only trying to change the other person's mind, then good luck with that. You won’t find much success. But you can seek common ground. You can listen carefully and empathize with the other person. These are useful interactions.

Political discussions, in particular as of late, can be hostile and counterproductive. Much of this derives from the expectation that other people should change their minds to our point of view. We see this in news and social media far too often. It doesn't have to be that way.

Bernie Sanders and John Kasich, two former presidential candidates and political adversaries, participated in a town hall style debate about recent developments regarding President Trump. They had some heated exchanges over differences of opinion. But for the most part, they listened to each other with sincere concern and respect.

The audience gained a lot from this exchange. Sanders, a democratic socialist, and Kasish, a conservative, will never change the other’s mind about anything of substance. But they found common ground and listened attentively. They affirmed that they are on the same team and share similar concerns. This fosters collaboration and compromise.

That is what we need more of, calm and considerate conversations rather than combative arguments. We probably won't change anyone’s mind, but that’s not the point. The point is to come together in search of mutual understanding. This, in my view, is a better goal and one that we should aspire to.