Softening Hardliners

You all are on a roll today.  Can you tell I’ve been around people from the deep south this week (North Carolina, George, Texas, and Mississippi)??? 🙂

I appreciate the PHENOMENAL questions you are sending today.  Today’s next question comes from Cheri.  She wrote:  “How do you suggest softening the hardliners on any side of a touchy – and today that seems to be all of them ! – issue? I had a grandchild who identifies as transgender condemn all Republicans in one brush stroke for example.”

There are two thoughts I have about your question, Cheri.

First, I think it is important to remind everyone involved that we are not just discussing issues:  we are talking about human lives that are attached to each issue.

Sometimes, when I feel things heating up when someone is talking about an issue, I will try to personalize the issue by asking them to tell a little about how they came to hold their opinion.

More than once, when I’ve asked someone who is rabidly “pro-life” why they hold that position, they will tell me, “When I was young, I was in a difficult spot – so I decided to terminate the pregnancy.  I’ve regretted it ever since then and want to make sure no one ever makes the same decision I did!”

Similarly, when I ask someone using hurtful rhetoric to describe those who oppose basic rights for LGBT persons, I’ll ask them what made them feel that way.  They will follow up by saying something like, “My sister is transgender and I’m afraid for her safety.  So when I hear someone say something that might make others more likely to lash out and hurt my system, I just lose it!”

Once we began to understand one another’s experience, it can help soften the rhetoric we use.  That’s my first observation.

Second, I believe it is critically important to establish some common ground between those on opposite sides of the issues.

When I was working to stop efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to the Washington State Constitution banning the protection of LGBT peoples’ rights way back in 1993, I went to a training where they taught me a model I’ve used ever since.  It’s called LARA.  LARA is an acronym that stands for LISTEN, AFFIRM, RESPOND, and ADD INFORMATION.  Here’s how it works.

When someone says something hurtful, you listen carefully and let them finish their thought.  That’s the LISTEN part.  Once they have finished. you pick at least one thing they said that you can agree with and then AFFIRM that area of common ground.

Once you have caught the other person’s ear by listening to them and affirming something they said, then you can move to the final two stages.  The third stage is to RESPOND to their concern by redirecting them to what you believe is the real matter at hand.  Once you have shifted to the area of concern, you finish by ADDING INFORMATION.

So how does this model work in real life?

Here’s an example of a situation that came up often 24 years ago.

Let’s say someone comes up to you and says, “I’m tired of the government extending ‘special rights’ to LGBT people.  LGBT people are dangerous: especially to our kids.  They are the ones who want to molest our children.  We need to roll back their rights in order to protect our children!”

After you have listened carefully to their position and let them finish, you then might say something like, “Thank you for sharing your view on this important matter.  As I listened carefully to what you said, it seemed clear to me that you and I share a common concern:  we are both 100% committed to ensuring the safety of our children.”

At this point you can begin to re-direct the conversation.

“If you look at the statistics for those children who have been molested, the majority of cases involve people preying on children of the opposite gender, not the same gender.  I’m worried that if we confused these two issues – if we confuse homosexuality with pedophilia – then our assumptions might actually put children at greater risk by focusing our attention on those who are not likely to hurt our children and ignoring those who .pose the greater risk.”

While some might think the most important aspects of the model are the third and fourth steps (RESPONDING and ADDING INFORMATION), in my experience it is the first two steps that are vital (LISTENING and AFFIRMING).  By listening to the one with whom we disagree and affirming some common ground; we can begin to deescalate conflict, soften the conversation, and increase the likelihood we can be in respectful relationship.

Those are my first two thoughts regarding this important matter.

How about you?  What do you think?


About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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2 Responses to Softening Hardliners

  1. sandi says:

    As we have ‘evolved,’ so too, “The Golden Rule” Do unto others what THEY would have you do unto THEM” (including the parents who created this baby – their sacred lives matter, too)

  2. Sharon says:

    To summarize your answer to this question, your first paragraph, Craig, is a jewel. I quote, “First, I think it is important to remind everyone involved that we are not just discussing issues: we are talking about human lives that are attached to each issue.”.

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