One of the primary reasons that talking politics with someone who has differing views is so challenging is we assume talking politics should be as easy as making sure they have all the facts we have. So we share our facts. But when our facts don’t change their mind, we’re likely to walk away complaining that “they just won’t listen!” or “they’re duped by the fake news they watch.”

There are other possibilities, though. Here are four factors that might explain why our facts are so often not enough to change another person’s mind.

Factor 1: The survival instinct that kept humans alive back in caveman days is still alive and kicking in humans today. Information — everything we see, hear, experience — is first assessed by the limbic system to see if it presents a threat. If so, instinct kicks in to get us to act first and worry about whether the threat was real later. Fight or flight, as this is sometimes called, applies to any threat, whether it be to our physical selves, our emotional selves, or our ideas. (If you didn’t already see the great cartoon from theoatmeal.com that we posted on a previous blog, check it out. It really does an excellent job of explaining how this plays out in our lives.)

Factor 2: While we all have the same basic brain structure (limbic, cortex, neocortex) no two brains are configured the same. Nature has provided lots of design options, some predefined by our genetic code, some switched on or off based on life experiences. As a result, we are all working with slightly different operating systems (sort of like my brain as a PC and your brain as a MAC).

Factor 3: Most of us consider personal experience to be among the most reliable sources of information available. Yet, even when two people are present at the same event, their experiences of that event are different. These differences can be vast when the two do not share the same culture, backgrounds, or opportunities, all of which color our individual views.

Factor 4: When it comes to knowing the difference between right and wrong, we humans all tend to evaluate using the same basic ingredients:

–Will the action hurt another? 

–Is it fair? 

–Will it result in my being disloyal to my own kind?

But we don’t all agree on which of these ingredients are most important.

So, what do these factors have to do with why talking politics is so challenging these days? They tell us the current situation is a direct result of human nature. It is, in fact, a simple case of people acting like people. How could we all see things the same way when we’re wired differently, assess morality using different mixes of the basic moral ingredients, and draw from vastly different personal experiences! These factors even explain how two sane, educated people might make opposite choices when asked to complete the following sentence:

<Obama/Trump> deserves to be tried and convicted for what he <did/is doing> to our country.”

ALL IS NOT LOST

This might make it sound as though we’re doomed to go on arguing and name calling until we start another Civil War. The good news is that war is not an inevitable outcome and, unless we truly believe our lives will be better when we’re engaged in the act of war on our homeland, we might want to pursue a less devastating path.

Now that we’re looking at the problem from this new angle and see that the current oppositional style of political talk is very likely not due to a problem with the person we’re talking to, we can use this new way of thinking to look for a solution. 

Ready to change your assumptions?

In case you missed it, check our previous post, We Are Crossing Party Lines.

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