Jacob Z. Hess, Director, Village Square Utah

One thing that Trump supporters consistently say they like about him is that he is willing to “tell it like he is” – with “straight talk” reflecting someone who is simply (and refreshingly) not afraid to “speak his mind,” seemingly unhindered by cultural restraints.

It’s often taken for granted that in order for someone to do all these things, that person needs to be a little brash, aggressive and willing to ‘tell people to their face’ things that may be hard to hear.

On one level, this is all pretty understandable in an American culture that by many measures has become a walking-on-egg-shell environment leaving many to wonder if they can say what they think. From evolution and climate change to gay rights and vaccination, clear signals have been made warning those who might disagreement about the risk of open cultural heresy (e.g., talk of ‘punishing’ climate change deniers or ‘shaming’ those theologically resistant to an easy embrace of gay marriage).

You think Trump uses insulting labels for other groups?  Listen to the things that conservatives (like myself) read virtually every day in popular media referencing our beliefs: “irrational,” “extreme,” “fanatic,” “religiously-motivated” and “anti-science.” (We’re not alone, of course, in stereotyped epithets rolling-off-the-tongue, as my Marxist or Atheist or gay friends would attest).

All this is to say that even while I’m perplexed at Trump’s popularity, I empathize with those wondering whether there is space for them in America anymore. Many of us in the conservative camp (and other camps) are wondering that these days.

And in their wondering, some find their way to conclude that what is needed is FIGHTING BACK…speaking their mind, no matter what!

But here’s what people aren’t realizing:  There’s MORE THAN ONE way to ‘speak our mind’ and ‘tell it like it is’…

Compared to the insulting, aggressive parade on display in American politics these days, the dialogue and deliberation community offers a robust, profoundly beautiful alternative:  a place where people can share anything – including frustrations, anger, fear, struggles and uncertainties. A place where people can ‘tell it like it is’ – and guess what!?…have other people actually listen.

In dialogue, more than any other space, I have personally found a place to literally ‘speak my mind’ unhindered – a promised land where that attentiveness and listening actually happens IN BOTH DIRECTIONS!

And there’s another big difference:  In dialogue this all happens without disparaging the character, intellect or sincerity of those on the other side. In other words, you can still enjoy them, have affection for them – and see the goodness, beauty in them (despite their crazy ideas).

So to my fellow Americans-wondering-if-there-is-space-for-them, let’s recognize that there are at least two ways to ‘speak our mind’ and ‘say it like it is’ in American politics: one way where we might actually learn something from each other and another way where we SPEAK our mind all right…but without much of a chance people will take us seriously.

So what do we really want?

 

While recognizing the virtue of intellectual integrity and courage, let’s pay more attention to not only whether we speak our mind – but how we speak our mind….it’s that how that makes all the difference!