How journalists can help us agree to disagree respectfully

I just read a captivating article.  In Complicating the Narratives, Amanda Ripley explains that journalists can learn about behavioural science to ask better questions and help us to agree to disagree respectfully.

She published her work in The Solutions Journalism Network a year ago June. I only saw it this week when a journalist friend posted it in an electronic chat discussion.

This article showcases important concepts from leaders in behavioural economics thinking. It also explains how mediation experts use their understanding of these concepts to ask questions that de-escalate conflict.

…I spent the past three months interviewing people who know conflict intimately and have developed creative ways of navigating it. I met psychologists, mediators, lawyers, rabbis and other people who know how to disrupt toxic narratives and get people to reveal deeper truths. They do it every day — with livid spouses, feuding business partners, spiteful neighbors. They have learned how to get people to open up to new ideas, rather than closing down in judgment and indignation.

Good writing technique

I love how Ripley used notable nonfiction techniques to tell this story. Notice that she began her article with an anecdote from an event that would probably interest most people.

The anecdote makes readers care about an issue that many hadn’t considered. Then she takes us into her personal investigation into mediation. Then she widens again to explain how her lessons could be applied in her profession. She widens even further to explain how anyone can use what she learned in their own lives.

She suggests journalists ask questions to show that those they interview have conflicting ideas about issues. We should emphasize emotional connections if they take place. We also need to listen carefully and repeat our understanding of ideas in our own words back to the person, something that mediators call “looping.” If we do this when interviewing people, we can demonstrate how issues we are trying to explore are more complex than anyone generally believes.

Political Divisions

Ripley outlines how research from social psychologist Jonathan Haidt applies to political division, such as that experienced in the United States, and to a lesser extent, here in Canada.

Haidt identifies six moral foundations that form the basis of political thought: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. These are the golden tickets to the human condition…If journalists want to broaden their audiences, they need to speak to all six moral foundations. If any of us want to understand what’s underneath someone’s political rage, we need to follow stories to these moral roots — just like mediators.

Rather than harping on diverse opinions, Ripley suggests that commentators explore why people believe what they do so that underlying values and experiences can be understood. She says that when this takes place, people don’t necessarily change their minds. Instead, they become more open to hearing what someone else believes, even when they disagree.

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As Canada heads into a federal election this autumn, I think this is very good advice for all of us. Our politicians are going to try to convince us that they know what should be done to run this country.

I doubt anyone has all the answers. It’s more likely that each of us has insight into a few of the things that need to be done. Perhaps we can talk about that for a change.

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Tracey Arial

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Tracey Arial

Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.

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