Everyone who has a strong political point of view wants to convince others to take it as seriously as they take it themselves. So why does it rarely, if ever, seem to work out that way? Just like the solution to any political problem, the answer is super-simple. Okay, not really. In fact, it’s more complicated than any one article could possibly cover.
In any case, there are a handful of things that you can do to improve your effectiveness at getting people to see eye to eye with you on politics. Most of them involve taking a bird’s eye view of politics and broadening your knowledge and perspectives. This is an attempt to provide some simple rules of thumb to better inform your knowledge of politics. The list here is a good place to start improving.
READ ABOUT YOUR ISSUES
In today’s modern media environment, it’s very tempting to think that a documentary, a podcast, or a radio or tv firebrand are giving you the political savvy that other people are sorely lacking. The truth is, print is a far better source of information. That’s not to say that those other media sources can’t be fine supplements to reading books and articles, but they should never form the basis of your information or opinions.
Books and articles provide much better quality of information because they are expected to provide references for the things that they say. That’s not to say that all books or articles do that, but when and where they don’t, any statement without evidence to back it up can be seen right away. Following key pieces of information back to their original sources is how you can verify the quality and truth of the information that you come across. Quality evidence coupled with sound reason is the only way to assess political issues.
FIND YOUR OPPOSITE
Find the person who knows as much as you and is still on the other side of the issue from you. It may take some work to find the right person, but there is inevitably someone who has a perspective that is opposite your own, who can make a case that is just as convincing as yours. In order to be able to be great at making your points compelling, you need to understand what the best counterpoints to your perspective are, and deal with them when they come up. Finding someone who is doing the most formidable job of opposing your points will give you the best results. Don’t stop looking for your opposite just because you see a lot of people making very weak counterpoints that you can easily dismiss. In order to exercise your knowledge and perspective of politics, you need to find the best counterpoints out there.
EXPLORE DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES
Similar to finding your opposite, you need to look for additional points of view. Is there a perspective that falls in between yours and its opposite? Maybe there’s more than one perspective in between. You need to find those perspectives and thoroughly understand them as well. It’s only through understanding a variety of perspectives that your own perspective will become resilient to challenges.
BELIEVE WHAT’S LIKELY, NOT WHAT’S POSSIBLE
Faith has its place in spirituality and matters of the heart. For absolutely everything else that you believe with conviction, the possibility that something could be true should never be enough for you to act as though it is. This is especially true of your political beliefs. If you hold a political belief that you find many other people don’t believe, you should be asking yourself if it’s likely to be true.
Can you express your confidence in the belief as a percentage? How do you come up with the number for that percentage? You should try to think of ways that you could potentially discover that you are overconfident in your belief. Maybe it’s a possibility, but what are the chances really? That’s not to say that you should necessarily believe what’s popular, but if you believe something that comes from special or secret information, or from a particular source that most people don’t know about, you should be thinking about what makes you trust it.
Anybody who has seen an action movie or video game knows that there are ways to blur the line between what’s possible and what’s impossible. Some things in the real world are just plain impossible and you need to develop the skills to know the difference. One simple way to develop this skill is to notice when movies and video games show you things that are impossible or at least very unlikely. Once you’ve noticed the impossible thing, try to explain to someone else or put into writing how you know that it’s impossible or otherwise very unlikely.
YOUR WORLDVIEW ISN’T PROPHECY
Far too often we believe something because it supports the way that we think about other groups of people or the way we think the world works. It’s easy to think of other people as naïve or selfish or uninformed or blind followers. The fact that there are some really bad people, that do and have done terrible things, makes it fairly tempting to think that good and evil is all that really matters in the world. In spite of this temptation, the world doesn’t really turn on good and evil. Souls might, but not the world. In any case, flesh and blood human beings aren’t purely good or purely bad. It can be more comfortable to think of them that way, but all people have some variable mixture of good and bad. Thinking of the world and the people in it in terms of good and evil, clouds your judgment and stops you from seeking the truth.
GET NEWS FROM THE LEFT, RIGHT, AND CENTER
One of the bad habits of people who are keen on keeping up with what’s going on in the country and in the world is to only get news from sources that they trust. While there’s certainly good reason to not get your news from the tabloids you find at the check-out lines of the grocery stores, it’s a terrible mistake to not seek out a variety of different political perspectives in your news media. You will often have a point of view that’s different from the people you read or watch. Getting news from different political perspectives will allow you to see the stories and topics that people in the other political camps see, and they’re often not the same as what appears in your preferred news sources.
KNOW THAT OTHERS KNOW MORE
If knowledge were a sport, it would be the only one where believing that you cannot ever be the best at it would actually make you better at it. Experts are people who have spent many thousands of hours honing their knowledge and skills in particular areas of practice. Many, if not most, people are experts on something. If there is a subject, vocation, or activity that you have spent years doing, it’s justifiable to think of yourself as an expert in that area. Nevertheless, always maintaining a mental attitude that someone else might know things that you don’t, even about subjects which you are an expert on, provides unexpected opportunities to learn more about that subject. Knowledge isn’t like a sport or even a competition, but more like a product of persistent curiosity.
CHALLENGE YOUR OWN OPINIONS
A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that challenging other people’s opinions is the way to sort out what’s true. While that’s part of it, it’s not the whole story or even the most important part. It’s more important to challenge your own opinions. What happens when you try as hard to poke holes in your own ideas as you try to poke holes in other people’s ideas? Do they hold up to the same level of scrutiny?
While this short guide to knowing more about politics isn’t intended to be comprehensive, it serves as a handful of simple guidelines to get you started on a path to improving the quality of your political judgements. These guidelines are helpful, but they cannot serve as a substitute for knowing more about the complexity of political issues. Simple explanations are generally not good enough to impart an accurate understanding of the nature of political issues or how you think about them. Knowing more about politics is the best way of getting your points across to other people. In addition to broadening your political perspectives by using the guidelines above, it is also crucial to know more about many other subjects such as; philosophy, social psychology, history, economics, biology, formal logic, probability, and sociology. This is because your political ideas tend to bump into your ideas about these other subjects. For example, you may think of historical events and become concerned for the future. You may have certain philosophical values that you want to preserve. Your political ideas might be informed by a thorough understanding of complex scientific subjects. You may hear a political argument and find it laden with logical fallacies. Knowing more about a variety of subjects will be helpful, however, unfortunately, you can’t be an expert in all of the subjects that can better inform your political ideas. In light of this, it’s good practice to temper your political beliefs in proportion to your understanding of all of the different subjects that can teach you something about politics.