Debating Through Empathy: Finding Common Ground During Arguments

By Alison Harner ’24

We’ve all been there: Your aunt Bertha brings up politics at Thanksgiving dinner, and let’s just say she’s not being very agreeable. Maybe holidays and gatherings look a bit different this year, but everyone will have to defend their opinions at one point or another, so you might as well do so successfully. Whether in uncomfortable conversations or screaming matches, it is important to practice one of the most overlooked human emotions: empathy.

According to professor, speaker, and author Jamil Zaki, people are less enthusiastic about exercising empathy when they think that you are born with a sort of kindness capacity. However, according to Zaki, empathy is a skill to build upon, and an easy way to do that is to find a common ground. 

Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines empathy as, “The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

In other words, empathy is accurately understanding another’s emotions. At any time, but especially with the recent election, it is often difficult to see past the obstacle of political convictions. You may feel so strongly about something that it feels as if nothing anyone says could make a difference, or it could be on the other side, as the person you’re talking to will not be persuaded.

Often arguments concerning politics are fueled by set beliefs of right or wrong, paired with the desire to change opinions for the better. However, practically anything that can be argued about is not black and white. Common ground can be discovered between the two extremes.

Gun control can be used as an example to prove this. Someone who wants more regulation might believe that if an easily accessed gun ends up in the wrong hands, the results could be catastrophic, and thus guns must be harder to access. While on the other hand, someone else may think owning a gun would protect against any danger they might face. Finding common ground is possible. Both of these people wish to be protected and to protect those they love against danger.

Overall, finding common ground and practicing empathy will make a world of a difference, while at the same time preventing what seems like an endless argument. Turns out, Aunt Bertha may not be that different after all.

4 thoughts on “Debating Through Empathy: Finding Common Ground During Arguments

  1. This idea is so important. I love how you began with a hook that many could relate to and ended with a tie back to the same example. Well done!

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