Respectful Dialogue in a Polarized World

A couple weeks ago, I had the fortune of attending the inaugural Cardinal Conversations event at Stanford University. Cardinal Conversations is a series of talks designed to pair speakers with diverse views on specific topics, and engage in a dialogue encompassing the multifaceted beliefs and actions within these topics. The first event featured two Silicon Valley heavyweights, debating one other since a fateful meeting as Stanford undergrads in a Philosophy class: Peter Thiel and Reid Hoffman. Thiel represents the conservative minority in Silicon Valley, with strong Libertarian views and outspoken support for Donald Trump during his candidacy. Reid Hoffman has a more Progressive, left-wing ethos, and continues to be a vocal critic of Trump. This political polarization framed a discussion on the complex interactions between Silicon Valley, tech, and politics.

Naturally, Reid and Peter disagree on a variety of political issues. What I found far more interesting was the nuance with which they were willing to engage in the conversation on the intertwining topics that sit squarely within our complicated contemporary social discourse. This nuance was framed by respectful dialogue – listening to each other’s opinions, acknowledging valid points, and then lending one’s own voice to argue against the opinion, not the person. With the advent of social media, it’s far too easy nowadays to engage in real-time wars of words, attacking another person’s character instead of focusing on his or her opinions. Even in face-to-face settings, it seems that people are increasingly taking on the categorization of the “other”: your side, oftentimes the “right” side, versus the “other,” which is opposed to your opinion. When opinion becomes conflated with identity, both sides talk over one another, and a conversation devolves into two monologues. When Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel talked, they talked to one another, accepting disagreements while simultaneously encouraging a deeper discussion of what it is that they truly believe.

In the end, Reid and Peter actually shared a lot of commonalities. Both of them acknowledge the dangers of increased homogeneity in our region, actively think about the effects of rising inequality, and are reevaluating the sociopolitical tensions between Silicon Valley and Washington D.C. That doesn’t mean that these two titans aren’t going about these issues differently – Peter Thiel thinks that increasing diversity of thought and belief is desperately needed Silicon Valley, while Reid Hoffman believes in increasing racial and ethnic diversity to make tech companies more representative of the overall population  – but the fact that they can dig deep and find the shared “ground-level” beliefs to discuss and compromise on is key to engaging in a meaningful discussion.

I really enjoyed Reid and Peter’s respectful dialogue, and I believe that it sets a powerful example for debates, large and small, that rage across our world. Take the time to listen to opposing points of view, and get down to core beliefs, not the opinions stacked several layers above these beliefs. Once you find commonalities, dialogue and intelligent discourse on differing opinions can begin in earnest.

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