The Start of Civil Conversations

Inspired by some comments on my post about the State of the Union, I’d like to share a sample dialogue. I feel like when it comes to these shared events like the State of the Union, we’re not sure how to deal with each other’s reactions. 

Writing a sample dialogue poses its own set of challenges. Feel free to comment if I forget something. I also intentionally left out certain specifics since those can be sticking points too. 

A group of friends are gathered for lunch. 

“Did anyone see the State of the Union? That was pretty great, right?” Lindsay says.

“I didn’t watch it,” Jill says.

“I only managed to watch bits and pieces of it,” Renee says. “I had to take breaks because I was so disgusted,” Renee says.

“Disgusted? By what? By honoring heroes? By celebrating life?” Lindsay asks.  

“Obviously not that. I’m disgusted by the show Trump is putting on, that he has been putting on ever since he ran for president. He is constantly hiding behind good things in an attempt to cover up all of his misdeeds. He is a narcissist. He only cares about himself. He doesn’t care for the people he talked about in his speech. They were just there for his own political gain,” Renee says.

“Come on, isn’t that what all presidents do? They all brag on themselves, try to make themselves look good for their own political gain. How is what Trump did any different?” Lindsay asks. 

“President Trump doesn’t just brag, he also spreads misinformation. He thinly veils attacks on people, fellow American citizens. He makes it sound like he has single-handedly pulled our country out of the pit of rot and ruin. I find that offensive. Our country doesn’t need to be ‘great again’. It’s been great, the greatest, and that’s not because of Donald Trump,” Renee says.

“While I admit his style does have a certain flare, I personally do think our country has been struggling for a long time now. America has somehow become the financier of the world. Trump came in and changed that. He’s started holding other countries accountable for their own people and not just letting America fix everything. And look at how many jobs we’ve lost to other countries. He is trying to bring industry back to the United States. Because of the way things have been, we’re now at the mercy of China,” Lindsay says.

“Okay, look, we could sit here and debate policy, but that’s not my main issue. He just bullies everyone. He comes in and figuratively blows stuff up. That’s no way to work. And what about how he is dividing America? The way he treats American citizens of non-European descent is disgraceful. It fosters more hate and division,” Renee says.

“What’s disgraceful is the way that Democrats think they are morally superior and yet they have no consideration for human life. They continue to make laws that they claim give women a choice, but it’s really just pushing more of them to have an abortion,” Lindsay says.

“Oh, great. Of course. It always comes back to the abortion issue. That’s not the only important issue, you know. What about the fact that President Trump continues to defy our laws and then gets away with it? He honestly thinks he can do whatever he wants and you guys will just go right on supporting him. He has been documented as saying that he can shoot someone and you guys would still support him. How is that for valuing life? I could say so much more, but I’ll leave it at that,” Renee says.

“You can’t just brush aside the abortion issue like that, or any other issue you try to just brush aside. And that’s your problem right there. You guys just keep pushing past our values and Trump is finally stepping up and saying ‘enough’,” Lindsay says. 

“You are so messed up,” Renee says. “These are real people, real lives that are getting hurt by Trump and his administration, and you want to hide behind abortion. People who are already born into the world deserve our protection too!” Renee says. 

“Excuse me. You just want to blame Trump for everything bad in the world rather than taking responsibility for your own upside down morals. It’s not President Trump who is creating all the problems. It’s all those who are morally corrupt,” Lindsay says.

“Morally corrupt??? Me!?” Renee says. 

“You guys,” Jill cuts in. “Are you listening to yourselves? I’ve been listening and it’s getting you nowhere.”

“Well, maybe we just shouldn’t talk about politics, then,” Renee says.

“Or… You could try talking about it like civilized people,” Jill says.

“How are we going to do that?” Lindsay asks.

“Look, I might not be really politically savvy, but there are ways through difficult conversations. I do it all the time with my kids,” Jill says. 

“Heh, what? You’re suggesting we use the same techniques you use with your kids? How is that going to help? These topics are a little more complicated,” Renee says.

“Complicated or not, listening to your conversation over the last minute makes it obvious to me that the same principles apply,” Jill says.

“This should be good,” Lindsay says.

“Look, one of the biggest problems is that you guys feel like you can’t validate each other. You know that you can both be right, right?” Jill says.

“How can we both be right?” Renee asks. “When it’s a matter of right or wrong, there’s no grey area. I don’t see how we can both be right.”

“You can both be right because you are both entitled to see things differently. Seeing things differently isn’t about being right or wrong. It’s good to value these differences instead of trying to prove there should only be one viewpoint,” Jill says.

“Wait a second, based on everything Trump has done, he is just a terrible person. That’s a fact. I don’t know how you can reach any other conclusion,” Renee says.

“Obviously it’s possible,” Jill says. “Lindsay disagrees.”

“Um, yeah, I definitely disagree with the statement that Trump is a terrible person,” Lindsay says. “A self-absorbed typical guy, maybe, but not a terrible person.” 

“Why do you like him?” Jill asks.

“It’s actually not so much that I like him, but that he is able to draw attention to my values. Now that you’re kind of making me think about it, I don’t feel like the Democrats value the same things,” Lindsay says. “They push so many policies I disagree with. They think they know everything. They constantly make fun of traditional values and try to tear them down. So when someone like Trump comes along, it’s not so much that I like him, but that he gives validity to what I feel is important. I don’t have to feel pushed around anymore.”

“So you want to feel valued but you haven’t always felt valued by those with different political views, right?” Jill says.

“Why yes, Mom, that’s about right,” Lindsay chuckles.

“I know, it all sounds kind of silly, but I’m just trying to make a point. A big part of why you guys argue about politics is because it’s rare that we take the time to really understand what’s behind these disagreements. In this case, you don’t feel valued. And now on top of that, Renee is making fun of the person who is speaking up for your values. It’s not so much that you disagree on everything, but that the disagreements are a result of not taking the time to value each other first.” Jill asks. 

“I don’t understand how that helps,” Renee says. “My dislike for Trump and what he’s doing doesn’t have anything to do with Lindsay’s values. He can’t possibly represent her values.”

“You don’t have to understand everything. It’s clear from Lindsay’s reactions that you have to assume that Trump and her values are related. So before you can make criticisms or even say what you think, you need to connect to Lindsay first,” Jill says. “Lindsay, you can do the same thing too. At any time, either one of you can take the initiative and validate before you start launching into the points where you disagree.”

“I’m still not sure how that would work,” Lindsay says.

“It might help to just try,” Jill says. “Lindsay, you started the conversation by bringing up the State of the Union. Let’s start with that. You said how great you thought it was and here comes Renee who doesn’t like it at all. Rather than insert your thoughts, why not listen and see if you can pick out what really matters to her and then try to connect with her and understand.”

“Um, okay, so uh, why didn’t you like the State of the Union address?” Lindsay says.

“Well, it’s because Trump is — “ Renee begins.

“Wait, wait a second. All she’s going to say is a bunch of bad stuff about Trump again and I don’t want to hear it,” Lindsay cuts in. 

“Okay. You have two options,” Jill says. “If you really don’t want to hear anything bad about Trump and his administration, you can just say that. You can say, ‘Hey Renee, I know you don’t like Trump all that much, but I do. I don’t want to cut you off and shut you down, but I also don’t want to have to listen to a bunch of negativity either. Is there a way you can share your thoughts without being too negative?’ That helps signal to Renee that you guys can talk, but that she can respect you by choosing to word things differently.

“The other option is to just be patient. Sometimes it helps to let people vent first, get all their negative feelings out, and then you can focus on the good stuff. Which would you like to try first?”

“I might have to try option one. I don’t know if I’m ready to let Renee vent yet,” Lindsay says.

“Okay. Go for it,” Jill says.

“This feels kinda weird, but anyway. Renee, I am interested in hearing what you thought about the State of the Union address, but if you don’t mind it would help if you left out the stuff that bothers you about Trump,” Lindsay says.

“Lindsay, I’ve got to be honest. I don’t think I can make it all positive and make the conversation comfortable for you, but I can try to steer away from personal attacks. How about that?” Renee says.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Lindsay says.

“I think when I look at events like State of the Union, and even other events that I’ve been watching recently like the National Prayer Breakfast, and well, pretty much any event where the President has to speak in public, I am just so upset by the fact that we don’t respect each other. These are sensitive issues for all of us. The way you are very sensitive about the abortion issue, and the military and guns and whatever else, there are issues that I’m really sensitive about too,” Renee says.

“Hmm. I guess that makes sense,” Lindsay says.

“That’s really good,” Jill says “And Lindsay, notice you don’t have to agree on the issues themselves, but you can agree that Renee is sensitive about certain things just the way you are sensitive about certain things. Now you’re making connections. Now you’re starting to see each other a little more the way you see yourselves.”

“So why is this so hard? Why is it that it’s so much easier to argue than to have conversations like this? Because honestly, this is kind of nice,” Renee says.

“I think we just need to be more kind to each other and be willing to make the extra effort,” Jill says. “It’s so much easier to argue and fight because there is so much that is upsetting everyone. But honestly, I think we’ll avoid a lot more heartache if we are willing to take that extra step.”

“Hey, Renee,” Lindsay says, “I’m sorry you didn’t like the State of the Union. I might not completely understand all of the reasons why, but I can understand that.”

“And Lindsay,” Renee says, “I’m glad you find good things going on in politics right now. I might not be able to completely understand or agree, but I can appreciate that you can.” 


  1. I see myself clearly in this conversation. Ha ha ha! Emily, I am struggling mightily. MIGHTILY. I am grateful for people like you, and grateful for my community of MWEG right now, as I feel like I am losing my grip on things. I don’t even feel like I recognize people I thought I knew anymore because our views are SO different, like we are living in completely alternate realities. It feels like the things I have been taught since my childhood about my place in my country and my country’s place in the world, and even basics of right and wrong have been turned upside down and inside out. It feels scary to me. All I can hear from defenders of Donald Trump is justification for his behavior. Over and over and over. By people I love and admire and have many things in common with outside of politics! I am grateful for your thoughtful tutorial on finding common ground, but it’s getting harder and harder for me. My brain and heart just hurt. Where is the peace?


  2. *** Posting for another reader ***

    I think what Emily illustrates so beautifully in this conversation is how difficult it is for each of us to adjust our inner perspective to allow others, who are not in that perspective with us, to have their own view. It IS a big challenge.

    I like how Emily, through ‘Jill’, shows us how important our words are. How we word our comments can bring understanding or divisiveness. That’s an area I’m constantly working on and I appreciate the reminder to continue working on that, as my effort to ‘get it right’ yields better results and better feelings than when I’m coming across as discourteous.

    I have to say that Emily hit it right on the head for me as she put into words one big reason I like Trump. “He gives validity to what I feel is important. I don’t have to feel pushed around anymore.”

    In a more general comment, I wish American lawmakers would collaborate more and find reasonable ways to manage our part of the world. This includes issues like welfare, health care, energy, work ethic, recycling, waste management, etc…..there’s so much that goes into managing our society ! It can be mind-boggling ! I really admire those who serve in any government policy-making capacity who actually read everything and know what’s going on. It’s a formidable task with which few can keep up.

    I commend all our citizens who are, more and more, getting involved with politics, defined as the activities of governing an area. I believe it’s so important that we know what’s going on in government and that we are willing to use our talents to strive to make things better. Let’s practice, as ‘Lindsey’ and ‘Renee’ did, so we can learn to validate each other and find ways to listen without getting defensive.

    Thanks, Emily, for modeling civil discourse !

    – Bronwyn


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