Ted Talks: Why we should all listen to Julia Dhar

Julia Dhar is the stillness at the eye of the storm of screaming and dissent which appears to have become the norm of life in the 21st century. In her Ted Talk entitled ‘How to disagree productively and find common ground’ she advocates a revival in the art of building on what we share…

We have descended into a childish slanging match of ‘tis’ and ‘tisn’t’, and it will lead us nowhere except discord and disharmony.

And the tragedy of it all is that too few people are listening to Julia Dhar (pictured). In fact, too few people are listening to anyone at all.

The world has become polarised with the politics of hate. Media – both mainstream and (anti)social – peddles selected opinions as truth and pours scorn on those who disagree. And that’s both sides of any debate.

We’re not taking sides here. No opinions are being offered – except this one: no debate should be allowed to be completely black and white (Of course someone, somewhere, will pounce on that, and call us racist. OK; let’s try again) No debate should be allowed to be completely blue and orange.

Says Julia in her Ted Talk on the subject (there’s a link to it at the foot of this blog, and it’s well worth listening to, since it offers a glimmer of peaceful light): “Some days, it feels like the only thing we can agree on is that we can’t agree on anything. Public discourse is broken. And we feel that everywhere – panellists on TV are screaming at each other, we go online to find community and connection, and we end up leaving feeling angry and alienated. In everyday life, probably because everyone else is yelling, we are so scared to get into an argument that we’re willing not to engage at all. Contempt has replaced conversation.”

And she’s right. Take the Brexit debate as a perfect example. Depending on who we listen to we’re told that misery and pestilence will stalk the land if the UK leaves the EU – or stays in it. And yet neither side is able to predict the future with any certainty whatsoever, because it’s the future. And – and this is the saddest part of all – neither side believes there is even the slightest crumb of sanity in what the other says.

C’mon, Julia. What’s the way out?

Julia advocates debate based on a shared reality. She says: “Debate requires that we engage with the conflicting idea, directly, respectfully, face to face. The foundation of debate is rebuttal. The idea that you make a claim and I provide a response, and you respond to my response. Without rebuttal, it’s not debate, it’s just pontificating. People who disagree the most productively start by finding common ground, no matter how narrow it is. They identify the thing that we can all agree on and go from there: the right to an education, equality between all people, the importance of safer communities. What they’re doing is inviting us into what psychologists call shared reality. And shared reality is the antidote to alternative facts.”

Working with groups, Julia asks people to commit, right at the outset, to the possibility that they might be wrong, and to explain what it might be that would change their minds. “Once you start thinking about what it would take to change your mind, you start to wonder why you were quite so sure in the first place.

“There is so much that the practice of debate has to offer us for now to disagree productively. And we should bring it to our workplaces, our conferences, our city council meetings. And the principles of debate can transform the way that we talk to one another, to empower us to stop talking and to start listening. To stop dismissing and to start persuading. To stop shutting down and to start opening our minds.” Hear, hear…

Listen to Julia here.

Picture: Ted.com