Boston College’s Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life hosted a small group seminar titled “What Now?” on Thursday night which focused on how people can have better conversations with people on the other side of the political spectrum. Suzanne Hevelone, Boisi Center program coordinator, and C. Thomas Fraatz, a graduate research assistant, led a discussion about different ways students can converse about difficult topics, particularly in the wake of the divisive 2016 presidential election.
The forum began with introductions from Hevelone and Fraatz and then transitioned into a discussion featuring current undergraduates and undergraduate research assistants. The conversation began with Sara Elzeini, MCAS ’18, who spoke to her positive personal support system at BC, while challenging both herself and the other students to understand the importance of understanding others perspectives.
“Getting other perspectives is how you grow,” she said. “Being willing to engage in conversations and having that maturity level is really important to growing. It’s a give and take relationship.”
Maura McSweeney, MCAS ’18, related her philosophy major to how the need for perspective is what is important in politically-charged conversations.
“These difficult conversations need to be had,” she said. “I think part of the issue is that we end up talking to people on the same side of the aisle as us. We need to try as hard as we can to understand why that person [we are talking to] feels the way we do.”
Akosua Achompong, MCAS ’18 and 2017-18 UGBC president, spoke about the nature of how people react when they begin having difficult conversations. Although she emphasized her enthusiasm for having difficult political conversations with anyone from her friends to her Uber drivers, she chose to speak to the fact that it can be challenging to converse civilly with someone who does not share the same intrinsic values as yourself.
“There are things that are fundamentally right that people discuss as politics,” she said. “Some people don’t see it that way and that can be very frustrating. But other times it makes me ask, ‘What else do you think?’”
This prompted Fraatz to pose a silencing hypothetical question: “What are we going to think about in 30 years from now that people are going to think is bananas?” Further emphasizing the need for an open mind, he referred to what is know as “the half life of knowledge,” the amount of time that it takes for half of what we know to be disproven. Jokingly, he said that in the fields of political science, it seems to be about nine minutes.
He then circled back to the necessity of an open mind in difficult conversations.
“What if our mind is the one that is supposed to be changed?” he said. “When you sit back and listen, you realize that this person who has a totally different idea than you isn’t Satan himself.”
McSweeney seemed to agree with Fraatz.
“I think there is a real danger to ascribing immorality to someone who doesn’t agree with you,” she said.
As the conversation came to a close after an hour and a half, Hevelone wanted to impress upon students that this type of productive discussion is exactly what the Boisi Center is all about.
“We think that it’s really important for undergraduates to come together and have a place to talk about these difficult subjects,” she said. “Conversations about Donald Trump can be very polarizing, but we still want people with different opinions to get together and have conversations of substance.”
Featured Image by Margeaux Eckert