The Conviction of Discourse
Has anyone experienced an increase in stress or anxiety lately due to uncivil discourse related to the current affairs of our country? Wouldn’t doubt it!
In today’s increasingly partisan political climate, it appears the discourse between Democrats and Republicans is becoming so uncivil that it can divide people in their workplace and within their own families and friendships. From a mental health perspective, this division can also affect an individual’s physical and psychological wellbeing by producing symptoms such as anxiety, isolation, and depression.
What could be a civil discourse in an arena of opinions, now appears to have turned into an all-out war of conviction. In addition, the introduction of “fake news” and the uncertainty of what is truth, can lead to fear, confusion, suspicion, and tribal convictions which are so strong that a political affiliation can be treated like a crime and adjudicated in the court of public opinion.
We know that certain topics like race, politics, immigration, and religion can evoke such intense emotions that just talking about these sensitive subjects can cause tremendous stress in people. But if your convictions are driving you apart from those you care about, disrupting your life at home or at work, straining your relationships, causing physical and emotional stress, this might be an indication that you are experiencing severe consequences of discourse in your life. And if discourse is creating serious symptoms such as depression, it may be time to seek support from a healthcare professional.
To better understand discourse, let’s revisit definitions of key components in any dictionary.
– Discourse: written or spoken communication or debate;
– Civility: courtesy, a polite act of expression;
– Incivility: lacking in courtesy: ill-mannered, rude, discourteous;
– Opinion: a belief or judgement formed, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge;
– Conviction: > a strong belief or persuasion; > the state of being convinced, the act of convincing a person of error or of compelling the admission of a truth; > the act or process of finding a person guilty of a crime especially in a court of law.
Keep in mind that opinions are generally more subjective than convictions, which as firmly held beliefs can define who we are as individuals. Some convictions can be inherited, and others can be developed through life experience. There are also many outside influences and lots of misinformation that can often form the basis of our beliefs.
We know engaging in discourse with others to express our beliefs is important, even necessary. Throughout human history discourse has proliferated intellectual inquiry that has helped shape great evolutionary achievements in humanity. Also, there is research which shows conviction is important in discourse even essential, because a strongly held belief is one of the elements that drives individuals and/or groups to become successful in their endeavors.
So, how do we handle the discourse of today’s volatile political environment? You can start by asking yourself what kind of discourse do you engage in? Are you civil or uncivil? Are your beliefs so strong that you convict someone by condemning them for having a difference of opinion? Have you lost a friend or family member because of a conviction? If you ask yourself questions like these, at least you’ll learn if you’re part of the problem. And if not, ask yourself how you can effectively respond to discourse with someone who behaves discourteously toward you. If you choose to engage, it’s helpful to educate yourself with facts that support your opinions, and learn how to recognize when it’s time to gently change the subject to avoid ill-mannered behaviors or hurt feelings.
You can also try cutting back on your daily news diet, spend more time on finding balance in your day to day routine, avoid discussing sensitive topics with family and friends, and focus more on finding things in common with those who have opposing arguments. Another suggestion is, engaging in introspection can help you learn how and why you developed such strong convictions. Ask yourself questions like where do your beliefs come from? What evidence are your opinions based on? What are you willing to sacrifice for your convictions? Is it your time, relationships, health, pride, physical and emotional wellbeing? These are answers you can give yourself and, you might even be surprised by what you discover.
There are many ways we can share our convictions and engage in discourse that is reasonable, constructive, and based on respect and tolerance. Remember, discourse can be a good thing.
When discourse is civil it is “the free and respectful exchange of different ideas”.
Just imagine for a moment the discourse of this nation’s founding fathers. It is certain that convictions and incivility existed back then but more than likely, it was civil discourse that helped procure the Democracy that provides us freedom to engage in the discourse of today.