We are doomed if every conversation requires footnotes.

Given the political season here in the United States, I thought it was time for rebroadcast of this 5/8/15 post.  Notice: This was a difficult post for me to write. As you will see it is very different from the usual sort of things you might find here at Bliss Habits. I hope this does not deter you from reading. 

'Don't Follow Leaders' by Ronit
‘Don’t Follow Leaders’ by Ronit Wiener
Website: ronitgallery.com


I am worried about us. Us meaning the American people. We seem to have lost the ability to talk with each other. I recently walked away from a Facebook conversation that I think illustrates the problem.

An old friend, someone I’ve known since before elementary school, was posting about her dissatisfaction with Obama’s Iran deal which did not include getting our hostages back. This topic has blown up in my Facebook feed with friends on both sides getting into the fray. Normally, I kind of steer away from these sorts of conversations, but I was feeling braver (a topic that deserves its own post) than usual.

I figured, I have an opinion, different than that of my friend, but what could be the harm in sharing it? So I did:

“It is too simplistic to think that trading hostages for any deal is ever a good idea. Imperfect situations require more nuance than the public can ever see.”

My Friend,  “Again- tell it to the families.”

A fair point! I’m sure this is terrible for the families and hostages themselves. I then say,

Me, “I believe hard work is being done every day on behalf of the hostages. We should never give up.”

I’m feeling pretty good about what I’ve posted. I don’t personally believe that making concessions with terrorists is a good idea AND I feel confident that there are people who are working EVERY day to do what they can to get the hostages released. I feel like I expressed my opinion clearly.

Then my friend replies with:

 “Goodness…..well at least you know all the standard talking points.”

What?!! I’m confused. Suddenly I’m being interacted with like I am some sort of Obama or Occupy agent. This is a woman I have known since we were three and four years old. I was clear we disagree but I truly thought my personal opinion would be welcome anyway.

I try, perhaps not very well, to explain why/how I’ve come to believe that negotiating with terrorists is a bad idea and mention that I think some of my opinion is informed by years of cop shows in which I was repeatedly taught that we never make a deal with kidnappers.

That went over like a lead balloon.

My friend, “And TV shows…really?”

My intention in sharing my TV reference was to show that the opinion I was sharing was/is uniquely mine. I was hoping this might show that I was not some agent provocateur for the other side and it was just me, an old neighbor, telling you what I think.

And to answer, TV shows… really? Absolutely really! My opinions are the sum of all the information I have consumed. Books, research documents, documentaries, comments from people I respect or don’t, discussions with friends etc. Some stuff I throw out and some stuff stays in. The theme that negotiating with kidnappers is bad happened to stay in.

Wow, I was truly surprised. We were no longer old neighbors having a discussion, it was me, crazy liberal, and she, defender of conservative values.

Suddenly I was a “good lib” doing a bad job of sharing my personal opinion because I hadn’t come to the table with “scholarly articles” to support my thoughts.

For goodness sake, we shouldn’t need to come to every conversation with footnotes. If having a conversation requires that we have to do our due diligence and come prepared to defend every argument with research treatises prepared by “reputable” sources I think we have a bigger problem than the poor handling of a hostage situation.

Further, the moment we start tossing each other into camps of liberal and conservative, we let ourselves off the hook for actually finding out what the other person thinks. Once labeled we already know the other persons opinion.

This isn’t just happening between the easily distinguished and opposing right and left (politically speaking.) I’ve seen it happen in my own Facebook feed between people I know to have the same fundamental opinions. I’ve seen race discussions blow up between two women of color because they BOTH assumed the other was white (because all MY friends must be white?) I’ve witnessed two extremely knowledgeable and passionate women ASSUME something about the other that couldn’t be further from the truth as I know them both. Once down that bad assumption path labels are formed and the zingers begin to fly.

Once labeled we have either ally or opponent.

Think about that.

How do you communicate with an ally? An opponent? Completely different, right!?

Think about how you feel when that person you know shares something you disagree with. Do you immediately think, “Oh yeah, they are (insert label here) so of course they think that.”

Of course they already know that we are (insert that other label here) so anything we might say will be filtered by that.

Labels change conversations. Black/white, right/wrong characterizations are truly difficult to navigate. Labels stop communication.

The moment I approached the conversation believing my friend is “conservative”, and she believing that I am “liberal”, nearly 50 years of friendship had no bearing on our conversation. We became opponents.

I’m saddened by our conversation and the thousands, maybe millions, more like it that are happening all around our country. We seem to have lost our ability to talk with each other.

The internet provides us easy access to bullet points, zingers and facts which make it easy to spit information rather than communicate. This has got to stop.


Let us drop the labels and begin listening to each other. Let us be less interested in “winning” and be more interested in creating a conversational space in which we can all be heard.

Rollo May said,

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”


My friends and I were certainly not doing this. So my questions are:

How do we reliably operate within Rollo May’s definition of communication?
Is it even possible to have conversations without our labels?
If we could what would that look like?
What can you or I do today to make that difference in our next interaction?

I would welcome your input in the comments.


16 thoughts on “We are doomed if every conversation requires footnotes.

  1. Lisa says:

    Honestly, I think that as a society we’ve jumped on the judgement bandwagon. We see facebook as a way to share our personal views instead of a way to learn from other’s viewpoints. And of course, the way attitude is read into a post will vary depending on the reader’s mood more than the poster’s.
    We want to be right. We want to be supported, and we want more than anything to have our opinions validated.
    I don’t think people want to use social media as a way to open conversations among their friends and family. And it really scares them to face dissent.
    As a society, maybe we need to relearn the art of respectful communication and debate, so we can strengthen our own ideas and test our values. Because sometimes when we take the time to really discuss both sides of an issue or “hear” (read?) what the other party has to say, we learn a little about ourselves as well as the issue at hand.

    • Kathy says:

      The being RIGHT aspect is so clear. My Landmark Education training teaches me to ask “Do you choose love and affinity or do you need to be right?” Even when the obvious answer is there sometimes I choose right.

      We should say “Only looking for Validation” or “Let’s have a discussion” when we post so we know what we are in for. 🙂

  2. January Handl says:

    Thank you for writing this, Kathy. I have recently “witnessed” myself labeling with ease and reacting to posts with “I bet they reposted without even thinking about if those stats were true.” And then…seeing that I do the same thing.

    I wrote an article for the Mulberry Messenger during a community rift about “how do we disagree?” Its so easy to slide people into a black and white polarized categories- way more easy than considering the complexity of how gray most of life and we humans really are. And that we often respond to conflict the way we have been raised or as suits our temperaments: some avoid, some attack, some condescend, some capitulate but resent it…and these models are all around us. However…
    People like you, and who chose schools who address emotional social skill building on parr with academics are what give my heart hope in the world. We don’t have to agree, we don’t have to be right…more, we need to feel seen and heard, and to see and hear with a willingness to be moved. Blessings!

    • Kathy says:

      Yes! Things are GREY and forcing black and white really makes things difficult.

      If all people did feel seen and heard it would be a very different world. I do hope that my girl will have a chance to forward that paradigm. Thank you for being such a stand for children and for laying the groundwork for my girl to be able to attend such a great school!

  3. Karen Blackburn says:

    Kathy I totally agree with this. Almost a year ago, we in Scotland had our Independence Referendum. Regardless of the outcome passions were stirred on both sides and online, we forged ‘friendships’ with people we never would have if we had not had this in common. What I found was that I put forward a view based on how I saw things – and used news articles to support my view, and many people were not prepared to even read the articles. Or maybe they did but because their conclusion differed from mine I became angry. I couldn’t believe that people couldn’t see things the way I saw them based on the evidence presented. I was unfriended by a few people and I unfriended a few others – one in particular, not because her view was different to mine, but because following the vote, she complained regularly about people and events that occurred as a direct result of the vote (which incidentally went the way she wanted it to). Later I began to find that sometimes I would contribute to a conversation but then would find that I just didn’t want to get into it when people responded to my comment. What I do find is that I will avoid putting forward a point because I just can’t be bothered getting into an argument – which is what these conversations often end up as. I don’t want someone to jump down my throat because I have a different opinion to them so it’s easier to just not engage. I agree that we wouldn’t expect people to come to a face to face conversation armed with supporting evidence, so why do we need to online? We are just expressing opinions. It has to be said, however, that I’m not the worlds best at having an open mind and it takes time, mulling and gentle persuasion to get me to change it! Thank you for your thoughtful post – I’ll be over here, mulling!

    • Kathy says:

      I think EVERYONE needs gentle persuasion when it comes to changing their opinion. I also think we need to feel safe. If I know someone is going to get angry it is easier to skip the conversation all together.

      Thank you for letting me know this isn’t just an American problem!

  4. Cheryl says:

    Thank you for writing and sharing this. It sure hits home for me. I am no longer communicating with a family member because of a “conversation” on FB about Planned Parenthood. Very hurtful things were said that would be difficult to take back. Would we have had that conversation face to face? Never. Because we know that doing so would be socially unacceptable.

    I have thought the same thing about reconnecting with people that I haven’t seen since High School. It was great and even exciting at first, but quite disappointing when opinions were expressed that opposed my own. Coming to the realization that we didn’t stay in contact because we had little in common in the first place was a first step in the new world of social media. Luckily, I have reconnected with some friends that I am happy to be in contact with, but again their views are similar to mine.

    Thanks again for this post. It has given me a great deal to think about.

    • Kathy says:

      Thank you for stopping by Cheryl. You bring up an interesting point. Facebook is great because we do get to stay in touch but maybe there are people we weren’t meant to continue to have in our lives. I truly try to be inclusive but sometimes when I see certain names come up in my feed my heart sinks a little because I know what they are likely to say just doesn’t jive with my world view. I don’t want to hide my head in the sand and only keep people who agree with me around either so it is a weird double edge sword.

      I feel like there has to be an answer but so far it evades me!

  5. Kat says:

    I argue a lot, as you might have noticed. What I find is that I don’t change my argument based on who I am talking to. I say the same thing to my Black friends, as I do my White. Latino as I do my Chinese friends.

    Conservative as I do Liberal

    So on my part, I’m not labeling.

    What I find is that the more you focus on substantiated fact, the easier it is to cross barriers. Because once someone is taxed with backing up their position with something other than what they pulled out of their ass–suddenly you have to discuss the issues rather than the suppositions.

    Those people unwilling to back up their claims–i just don’t talk to for long. Unsubstantiated arugments rarely go anywhere, anyway.

    Solved the problem for me.

    • Kathy says:

      Thanks for stopping by to comment Kat!

      I’m not against “substantiation” I just don’t think it is required in EVERY conversation. When I am sharing MY OPINION I think it is fair to ask why I believe what I believe BUT I shouldn’t have to provide “SCHOLARLY DOCUMENTS FROM REPUTABLE SOURCES” unless we are engaging in an actual debate. Facebook is fine for debates but I think we get lost when we don’t set the ground rules. I now know what my old friend requires when we engage on a topic. Likely this will keep me quiet more often but when I’m up for it I will come to the table prepared.

      • Kat says:

        I don’t think that things have to be substantiated at the level we would if we were a journalist reporting, but if we back up a position with something concrete, it disciplines us–and I think it does move us away from “labels” and onto the topic.

        Besides in this day and age, it’s so easy to look things up.

        Otherwise, how far can a discussion really go? Unless someone is already really well informed.

        • Kathy says:

          A fair point! I do wonder however, in a time where it easy to find facts to support either side of any argument, if “backing up” our opinions matters that much. Not that I mean we shouldn’t try to be informed. What I think is often missing is a person’s own thinking. Spewing another persons facts is fine but a difference can be made in the actual discourse of our own conclusions.

  6. Kat says:

    The other thing that I also find helps, when I”m able to —is to in fact see the other person’s point of view. Try it on for size.

    I am wrong sometimes—I discovered this, when I’ve bothered to listen.

    Sometimes we have to be the listeners we wish others would be.

      • Kat says:

        It is. I do find that if I really listen, the other person softens and also becomes more open to my opinion.And the truth is, sometimes I’m wrong.

        There have been a number of discussions where once I dropped my ego, I actually realized my positions wasn’t as strong as I thought.

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