Helen Gottstein
Corporate public speaking skills for people of ambition

Why We Get Crazy in Political Arguments

It’s a week before the US election and on every media platform and get together there is a lot of frothing at the mouth.

My Twitter feed included this jewel, “Congressional republicans are pure f*cking evil,” as well as, “Biden owned by the Chinese Communist Party!”

No matter which one of those lines insulted your intelligence more, you’ve got to ask, What’s going on? How come an opposing viewpoint makes us furious? (Furious!!!)

It’s because of a very simple fear – we fear that we may be eaten by a bear.

Here’s what the research shows us.

Neuroscientists at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California recruited subjects with staunch political views and looked at their brain activity when their beliefs were challenged.

The fear parts of their brain lit up as if they were being chased by a tiger.

The Pew Research Center found that large shares of the population are not only angry and frustrated with people who hold different opinions, they are also afraid of them.

Have you see the trailer for the new Borat movie? Borat is being hosted in a home and asks his hosts, what’s more dangerous, the coronavirus or the Democrats. They say,  “The Dems!”

So, if hearing an alternative view of reality, triggers our fundamental, freeze/flight/fight fear center, guess what happens to our ability to actually hear what someone else is saying.

It’s not good. How come? What happens to our IQ when we are stressed? Also, through the floor. That’s why stress impacts test performance.

If you’ve ever been in a truly dumb, “You’re stupid!” ” No, you’re stupid!” match, then you know you probably don’t feel very smart afterwards.

What to do differently? Gillien Todd in her course on negotiation at the Harvard Business school suggests this:

Try to genuinely take a curious and calm approach. Before you judge, ask, (and by ask, I mean ask real questions and not the, Are you stupid? variety) How did they land where they landed? How did come to develop that view? Judgement blocks curiosity.

The truth is, we can only become secure in our convictions when we allow us ourselves to be challenged. Confident people don’t get riled up by people who think differently.

But, wow, it’s hard. A Palestinian once told me he knew it was the Jews who were responsible for 9/11. I managed to ask how he knew. He said, “It’s in all the newspapers.” I shared that I must be reading very different papers. It became a conversation about our news sources rather than which one of us was the incarnation of  pure evil on earth.

Of course, you can’t do this with everyone, (or at least, I can’t) but the value is this: someone who has been listened to, is more likely to be able to listen to you.

About the Author
Helen Gottstein, Loud and Clear Training, boosts public speaking skills for people of ambition so they get attention and reach their speaking goals. A TEDX mentor and corporate trainer, Helen brings a long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion so that all can access the skills and confidence to speak up and be heard. She also laughs loudly and is tired of walking her dog.
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