At our Christmas dinner, we ended up discussing guns, drugs and homosexuals. Plus some politics.
I hate discussing politics. And I had a hard time with the guns, drugs and homosexual conversations too. Not because I don’t hold opinions. Not because I don’t care about them. Not because I’m afraid to share my opinions. And not because I’m afraid of controversy or loud arguments.
I hate discussing these hard topics because I know I haven’t set myself up to succeed – to convince the other person my view is right. Words and facts and heated discussions rarely change anyone’s mind.
If you really want to change someone’s mind, you have to truly understand why they think they way they do. I can show people how open source software will help them because I understand why they are suspicious of free software. I understand what their concerns and hesitations are. And I don’t just understand them, I can feel their anxiety. I can imagine what they have to explain to their bosses and how they’ll feel responsible. I also know enough about free and open source software to address all their concerns and point out what’s a myth.
I truly don’t understand why people think sending millions of people through scanners at the airport will make us all safer. And I truly don’t understand many people’s positions on homosexuality, religion, guns and drugs.
If I did, perhaps I could convince them my views would lead us to a better world. But until I can truly understand why they feel the way they do, I feel very under-qualified to change anyone’s opinion.
To top it off, I think we also spend too much time avoiding the root of the problem and discussing how to fix the symptoms. For example, take abortion. Nobody wants an abortion. Nobody goes out and gets pregnant because they want to get an abortion. So why do we spend millions of dollars, lots of emotions and tons of time debating whether abortion should be legal or not? Because we’re avoiding the real problem – why people who didn’t want to get pregnant, got pregnant and how we might help people like them avoid that in the future.
I think the same problem (abortion vs getting pregnant) applies to most emotional topics. When discussing guns, drugs, homosexuality, etc, we tend to focus a lot of our energy on things that are symptoms (unwanted pregnancies) rather than on the root cause (helping people avoid getting pregnant if they don’t want to be.)
Oh, and we didn’t discuss abortions at Christmas dinner. Maybe next year.