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How to Improve Your Political Discussions At Thanksgiving Dinner

BridgeUSA and AllSides This post is in partnership with AllSides Media. AllSides is a nonpartisan media organization that exposes people to information and ideas from all sides of the political spectrum so they can better understand the world — and each other. It’s everyone’s favorite time of year– getting to have political discussions with family around the dinner table! I mean, Thanksgiving. For some, Thanksgiving is an excuse to get together with loved ones, share a meal and give thanks for what we have. For others, it has become associated with having awkward, and difficult, political conversations with family, while simultaneously trying to avoid that “crazy uncle” everyone seems to have. It’s no secret that politics has become very divisive. But, you may be surprised to learn that 85% of Americans said that political differences did not hurt their relationships with family members. This includes 71% of Gen Z between 18-24; 70% of Millennials; 86% of Gen X and Boomers, and 89% of the Silent Generation. Unfortunately, our perceptions of what having political discussions is like can be largely swayed by what we see online or in the media, and that may hinder our willingness to have conversations this holiday season. While you’re not obligated to hop into a political discussion this week, don’t be afraid if the topic does come up! Here are some tips if you do find politics on the menu: #1: Establish common definitions and discussion guidelines At the root of many political differences lies the definitions we use. If participants enter a conversation with different understandings of words or phrases, the discussion can become much more difficult. Establishing common definitions for terminology and agreeing on a set of shared facts will make political conversations go much smoother.  Make sure to also establish discussion guidelines! This can be as simple as agreeing to respect each other and not interrupt when someone is talking, and can go as far as setting a timer for how long each participant gets to speak. Hint: You can use AllSides Red Blue Translator™ to get a basic understanding of what different words might mean to different people. #2: Listen to understand, not to respond At the end of day, we all just want to be heard. Remember this when you are discussing politics this holiday season. Conversations become less effective when participants are planning their response ahead of time instead of listening to what’s being said. The point is to allow each other space to be heard, and to see if you can understand a different perspective. If understanding is not an option, the other person may still be grateful that they were able to share their thoughts with you. Try this: Repeating back to your discussion partner what you heard them say in your own words, to make sure you were listening and interpreting what they were saying correctly.  #3: Ask questions about experiences Instead of diving right into a debate, try asking about experiences. Many times, our views come from past experiences, including where and how we were raised, who we are surrounded by, and also the values we hold. It’s easier to discuss difficult topics when we focus more on the individual and learn what shaped their views, and it also helps us humanize each other a little more. You may find that you’re able to empathize with each other, even if you don’t agree on the opinion. Try this: Ask “What is an experience that shaped this view?” or “What happened that caused you to think this?” #4: Address the perspective, not the person It’s easy to assume that everyone who may disagree with us is against us. But, just because we may not like what’s being shared, doesn’t mean the person sharing the thought is necessarily a bad person. Instead of directly addressing the speaker, try addressing the perspective they are sharing. You may think the idea is not very well thought out, but that doesn’t mean your counterpart is uneducated.  Addressing the perspective also makes it easier to avoid personal attacks and can keep the conversation focused more on ideas and policies rather than informing the character of participants. Try this: Say “I’m not sure I agree with that point. Is there a different way you can explain this idea?” #5: Don’t try to change minds The most important thing to remember in political discussions is that the point isn’t to try and change minds. Many of us go into these conversations with an intention to have the other person agree with us, but the reality is we often won’t be able to change the other person’s mind. By removing this expectation and allowing discussions to unfold authentically, we can develop better conversation styles and even build trust between each other. Hint: The best way to change minds is by listening to each other and having patience. (BONUS!) #6: Thank each other for the conversation Too often, we view people with differing views as bad or as “the enemy”. Less often do we actually get the chance to have a conversation with them. Try thanking each other for taking the time to discuss this holiday season and for being willing to share views. Political discussions can be intimidating. They can also be challenging. That doesn’t mean we should shy away from them. That also doesn’t mean we have to engage in them. Wherever you find yourself this holiday season, these tips can help navigate conversations with loved ones and may even lead to a better understanding of each other, political or otherwise. .stk-a9cb2a7 .stk-img-wrapper{width:47% !important;height:332px !important}
06
Oct

It’s Time for Term Limits in Congress

It’s Time for Term Limits in Congress

Hailie Addison The average age of House Members of the 117th Congress is 58.4 years and the average age of Senators is 64.3 years.  As per the Constitution, you must be at least 25-years-old to be a Representative and at least 30-years-old to be a Senator. There are currently no term or maximum age limits for those in Congress.  It is something that many of us wonder: How are people, almost three times our generation’s age, supposed to accurately represent young Americans and what we want? Almost every industry has mandatory retirement based on age-related declines in vision and hearing, the ability to endure stress, and the increased risk of medical emergencies. Currently, 31 states and the District of Columbia require state-level judges to retire when they reach a certain age. But yet there are no age limits for those in Congress. Why? Currently, there is little to no conversation around implementing maximum age limits among Congress. Many members of Congress agree that age limits are not something that we will be seeing anytime soon, even though 3 in 4 Americans favor it, and 4 in 10 Americans view the ages of political leaders as a major problem.  However, term limits are a more feasible solution that we may see and that is widely favored among the American public. According to the last five national polls, 82% of Americans want term limits. This is an issue that both sides agree on, including 89% of Republicans, 76% of Democrats, and 83% of independents, and an issue that both President Trump and President Obama also agreed on.  Term limits within Congress would give other politicians the chance to be in Congress, rather than keeping the same politicians in their seats for several years. It would also fix part of the age problem that so many Americans want fixed. For example, Nancy Pelosi, who is 82-years-old, has been representing San Francisco for 35 years. With term limits, Pelosi and other congress members in similar situations, would not be able to represent a district for so many years..  Given that so many Americans support term limits, and that members of Congress are elected to represent the American people, why do politicians not support term limits, too?  The answer is quite simple, money and power. Members of Congress are able to gain power by remaining in office. The seniority system is an incentive for Congressional incumbents to stay in office, arguably longer than they should. Seniority is used to determine who gets first choice at offices and who gets to chair committees. This often turns into a campaign mechanism; the longer they are in office, the more power they hold. During campaigns, they are able to use the seniority system to their advantage which often gets them reelected.  Many who are against term limits argue that to be a good lawmaker, you need experience which you gain by staying in your position for years on end. Yet Congress only has a 14% approval rating among the American people, and 60% say they would “fire every member of Congress if they could”.  Another argument against term limits is that older generations need to be represented in Congress. Term limits would not end older generations holding office, they would allow for more diversity across the board, including in age, ethnicity, gender, and ideology. Older generations could still be represented, but so could other groups of people that have not had equal representation in the past.  Already, Congress is growing in racial and ethnic diversity with 124 lawmakers in the 117th Congress identifying as Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander or Native American. But that is only roughly 23%, leaving the other 77% white.   Regardless of how many Americans support term limits, many Congressional incumbents are against them for their own selfish reasons. The reason being power. Congress Members would not have power without the people that elected them to represent. Not giving their people what they are asking for is an abuse of power. Power that their people gave them and trusted them with when they were elected.  In order to rejuvenate the government, bring in fresh ideas and outlooks, and create accurate representation of America’s diverse society, we must have term limits. It is one of the only issues that a majority of Americans agree upon, regardless of their views or political affiliation. It is something that Americans have pushed for for over 25 years. It is not only long overdue, but it is a wrongdoing of Congress Members to not give the people what they want. You can not build a career based on representation of the American people if you are not willing to represent them accurately, even if it means sacrificing the power and position that you hold.
15
Sep

Why Discussing Guns and Roe v Wade is Difficult, Even for BridgeUSA Students

Why Discussing Guns and Roe v Wade is Difficult, Even for BridgeUSA Students

Jessica Carpenter It’s no secret that guns and abortion are two of — if not the — most contentious topics in our politics. Where other issues center primarily on statistics and what policies may create the best outcome, abortion and guns find themselves grouped into a larger, more intangible idea: morality.  Morals are our understanding and perception of “right” and “wrong”. How we view morality is framed by various things, including how and where we are raised, what values we are taught, how we view relationships with family members and friends, and also our understanding of responsibility. For this reason, when discussions that rely heavily on individual morals find themselves at the forefront of our politics, they are some of the most heated. Even for BridgeUSA students. How do we explain the value we each place on life? More importantly, how are we able to talk about these issues constructively? On June 23, the Supreme Court struck down a proposed New York law that would’ve limited who could obtain a permit to carry a gun in public, stating that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense. This decision comes after a series of mass shootings in May forced both legislators and the American public to re-address their view of gun laws in the U.S. .stk-b9b51f5{margin-bottom:23px !important}On June 24, the Supreme Court also released its ruling on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, overturning Roe v Wade. The ruling, which previously deemed a women’s right to an abortion a constitutional right in 1973, will now leave the decision up to individual states.  Both of these rulings undoubtedly have added to the continued debate on gun laws and abortion, and may make it seem like these issues are impossible to discuss. Not only are these discussions difficult, but they also require us to reflect on our personal morals and be more deliberate in how we express those beliefs. This might be where the problem lies altogether. .stk-a65cb9b .stk-img-wrapper img{object-position:47% 37% !important}.stk-a65cb9b .stk-img-wrapper{height:321px !important}:where(.stk-hover-parent:hover,.stk-hover-parent.stk–is-hovered) .stk-a65cb9b .stk-img-wrapper{–stk-gradient-overlay:0.7 !important}:where(.stk-hover-parent:hover,.stk-hover-parent.stk–is-hovered) .stk-a65cb9b .stk-img-wrapper::after{background-color:#000000 !important} .stk-2efd4e5-container{background-color:rgba(0,0,0,0.3) !important}:where(.stk-hover-parent:hover,.stk-hover-parent.stk–is-hovered) .stk-2efd4e5 .stk-2efd4e5-container{background-color:rgba(0,0,0,0.6) !important}.stk-2efd4e5-container:before{background-color:#000000 !important}.stk-2efd4e5-container{display:flex !important}.stk-2efd4e5-inner-blocks{justify-content:center !important}.stk-2efd4e5-container{flex-direction:column !important}.stk-2efd4e5-container{margin-top:0px !important;margin-right:0px !important;margin-bottom:0px !important;margin-left:0px !important} .stk-c4eafc0{opacity:0 !important}:where(.stk-hover-parent:hover,.stk-hover-parent.stk–is-hovered) .stk-c4eafc0{opacity:1 !important}.stk-c4eafc0{transform:translateY(-24px) !important}:where(.stk-hover-parent:hover,.stk-hover-parent.stk–is-hovered) .stk-c4eafc0{transform:translateY(0px) !important}.stk-c4eafc0 .stk-block-text__text{color:#FFFFFF !important}A crowd gathers outside the Supreme Court after a draft opinion leaks that judges are planning to overturn Roe v Wade (Kent Nishimura, Los Angeles Times. 2022) The split in moral understanding is nothing new in the United States. As I said, there are many factors that help form our understanding of morality and what we deem “morally right”. Studies suggest the majority of that formation can be dependent on one’s childhood and one’s culture.  The Moral Foundations Theory was first proposed in 2004 to understand why morality varies so much across cultures. From their review of earlier research, psychologists Jonathan Haidt, Craig Joseph and Jesse Graham suggested that all individuals possess “intuitive ethics” that guide their understanding of morals. They labeled these foundations: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal (Ingroup/Outgroup), Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation, with the latest addition including Liberty/Oppression – a nod to the influence of one’s political ideology on their perception of morality, as proposed by Haidt. Each of these foundations centers on our perception of each group, and these understandings vary between groups of people, including Republicans, Democrats and Independents. In 2009, Haidt and Graham proposed a new hypothesis to explain this difference between political groups. This theory suggested that “political liberals construct their moral systems primarily upon two psychological foundations—Harm/care and Fairness/reciprocity—whereas political conservatives construct moral systems more evenly upon the first five psychological foundations.” .stk-7c50f20 .stk-img-wrapper{width:74% !important;height:443px !important} If we take this theory and apply it to debates of abortion and gun laws today, it’s probable that many individuals on the left and right use the same measurements proposed in 2009 to dictate their stances. And this isn’t unique to just guns and abortion. According to the same study, American voters are also starting to use their values to guide their vote toward “their vision of a good society”.  Now, just because our morals are formed through various means and experiences, this does not mean they are concrete, and studies show that our morals may change over time for various reasons. In fact, one of the main drivers of moral change is actually human interaction.  According to Nature.com, when we associate with other people and share common goals, we extend empathy to them. As we begin to meet other people outside of our immediate social circles, our ‘moral circle’ also widens and we may begin to shift our stances within certain moral foundations.  This is all interesting, but where does that leave us as far as having discussions about moral issues go, currently? Seemingly, at a standstill. Due to growing divisions within the country, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are less likely to engage with those outside of their political or social circles. However, just because it is difficult to discuss issues centered primarily around morality with others, it doesn’t mean it is impossible.  There is no one right way to discuss topics grounded in morality, including guns or abortion. Luckily, I’ve been able to pick up a few tips during my experience in BridgeUSA. Don’t dive straight into the conversation at first Decide what you want out of the conversation and have patience throughoutSeek to understand the other person – not change their mindAgreement on the broader picture is not always likely, and it’s important to also focus on where some of your beliefs may overlapRemember that your “opponents” are people too, no matter how much you may disagree .stk-1159695 .stk-img-wrapper img{object-position:30% 52% !important}.stk-1159695 .stk-img-wrapper{width:100% !important;height:250px !important}:where(.stk-hover-parent:hover,.stk-hover-parent.stk–is-hovered) .stk-1159695 .stk-img-wrapper{–stk-gradient-overlay:0.7 !important}:where(.stk-hover-parent:hover,.stk-hover-parent.stk–is-hovered) .stk-1159695 .stk-img-wrapper::after{background-color:#000000 !important} .stk-6bc3c2f-container{background-color:rgba(0,0,0,0.3) !important}:where(.stk-hover-parent:hover,.stk-hover-parent.stk–is-hovered) .stk-6bc3c2f .stk-6bc3c2f-container{background-color:rgba(0,0,0,0.6) !important}.stk-6bc3c2f-container:before{background-color:#000000 !important}.stk-6bc3c2f-container{display:flex !important}.stk-6bc3c2f-inner-blocks{justify-content:center !important}.stk-6bc3c2f-container{flex-direction:column !important}.stk-6bc3c2f-container{margin-top:0px !important;margin-right:0px !important;margin-bottom:0px !important;margin-left:0px !important} .stk-a4cd4e0{opacity:0 !important}:where(.stk-hover-parent:hover,.stk-hover-parent.stk–is-hovered) .stk-a4cd4e0{opacity:1 !important}.stk-a4cd4e0{transform:translateY(-24px) !important}:where(.stk-hover-parent:hover,.stk-hover-parent.stk–is-hovered) .stk-a4cd4e0{transform:translateY(0px) !important}.stk-a4cd4e0 .stk-block-text__text{color:#FFFFFF !important}Hundreds of gun owners and enthusiasts attend a rally in Hartford, CT on Jan. 19 (Rick Hartford/MCT/Landov) No one in our country has figured out the right approach to these topics, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. As long as we’re still willing to engage each other and allow room for discussion and constructive disagreement on these topics, we can allow ourselves space to understand each other’s morals and still find ways to make change together.
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