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Do You Hold Your Opinions Inward or Outward?
A simple blueprint for easier political conversations with friends
If you've ever discussed politics with a friend or neighbor who you don't see eye-to-eye with, you know that uncomfortable feeling. Your skin gets hot. Your heart beats a little faster. Your words don't come out as articulately as you'd like. You may even regret that the conversation happened at all. "Annnd that's why you shouldn't discuss politics with friends," some wise people would counsel.
But I have this mental model — although that makes it sound more serious than it is — that seems to take the heat out of these conversations, when they do pop up.
As often as I can (though I certainly fall short of this pretty regularly) I imagine that I'm holding my opinions outward. Like, I literally picture an outstretched arm, my hand grasping an idea. It's my idea, I believe it, but I'm also comfortable with other people questioning it, agreeing with it, knocking it around, or trying to change it. I can turn the idea in my hand, look at it from different angles, and inspect it closely. I may even decide to drop it at some point.
Others (raising my hand here) hold some of our ideas inward, tight to our chest. In doing this, there's no space between us and our opinion. It becomes intertwined with our identity and sense of self. So when others question or poke at those ideas, we get defensive, because it feels like they're attacking us, not just the idea. Holding an idea close to the chest gives us a limited vantage point and prevents us from taking an objective look at it.
A few caveats about this perhaps overly-simple concept, quickly presented in list form:
An idea held outward isn’t necessarily right.
An idea held inward isn’t necessarily wrong.
Holding an idea outward doesn’t indicate an eagerness to discuss it.
Holding an idea inward doesn’t indicate a desire to avoid discussing it.
Ideas are different from values¹.
Last thought: In addition to making political conversations easier, I suspect that a person’s tendency to hold their ideas outward will get them to well-formed opinions quicker. They may change their mind more frequently too, but it’ll be a well-earned evolution.
¹ We don't hold our values outward — those *are* intertwined with our identity. But I actually think that values can be a superior starting point for some of these conversations, because across the political spectrum, we have so much in common. The differing ideas are often just competing ways to achieve and prioritize the values that we hope to collectively realize.
Thanks for reading! This is the third of four internet essays I’m going to write for my third Season of Writing.
They’ll all be out by the end of March, 2023. If you liked this one, please subscribe below, and you’ll receive my writing in your inbox.
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