by Angie Phifer
American politics has become increasingly polarized in recent times. Sometimes it feels like we just can’t agree on anything anymore (even the “facts”). I have often felt that talking to people that have different issue stances than me seems pointless (especially through Facebook comments). But not talking to people from opposing parties is part of what causes us to be so polarized to begin with, so it seems like we’re often in a catch 22. How can we talk to Republicans without the conversation becoming combatant and losing all sense of mutual understanding?
The Denison Democrats recently hosted Sarah Hurwitz, former Chief Speechwriter for First Lady Michelle Obama. In part, she spoke about this very issue in terms of speechwriting: how to get your point across to everyone effectively. However, I think this point can be applied to everyday conversations as well. Her answer? Tell stories.
Shouting facts and policy at people will not get you anywhere and will be devoid of meaning. Opening with a story of how a policy affects people in real life can be way more effective and productive. Michelle Obama does this in so many of her speeches like her 2016 DNC speech, written by Hurwitz, which opened with a story about watching her daughters go to their first day of school after moving into the White House. This tool is not only compelling but also provides background, context, and meaning to the issues that matter so much to us. Telling someone that repealing Obamacare would cause 32 million people to be uninsured by 2026 probably won’t convey to someone who is already inclined to dislike Obamacare why that matters. Telling them what it’s like to be uninsured, however, may allow them to better understand the implications of healthcare on a personal level and why it’s such an important issue to you.
I have found this to be effective, especially when canvassing. When asked by people why they should vote for Hillary, they were way more receptive when I told them a story about how she had been fighting for women’s rights since before I was born and why that was important to me rather than detailing her specific policies. Politics, at the end of the day, is emotional and personal because it affects everyone’s life. When talking, debating, or arguing, it’s important to get to the heart of it.
So next time you go on Facebook and want to spit out statistics, stop yourself and tell a story instead. It may not change anyone’s mind but it could be more productive and allow people to understand where you’re coming from, why you hold the beliefs that you do, and why an issue matters to so many people.