Civil Discourse

There Are Trump Voters in Washington. Go Talk to Them.

“Listen to understand—not to respond.”

By Matthew Halverson January 19, 2017 Published in the February 2017 issue of Seattle Met

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Even in deeply blue Seattle, Suzie Burke doesn’t hide her affection for Donald Trump. She has a painting of the freshly minted president in her Fremont office, and she’ll proudly talk to any liberal about her support for him. And she always says the same thing: “I feel for you because I understand you only talk to people who agree with you.”

She has a point. It was tempting to avoid conservative friends and loved ones this election season for fear that they’d try to outline the Clintons’ role in an interstellar conspiracy to harvest human organs. But now that it’s over, the best way to move forward may be understanding why they voted the way they did. “We tend to believe their reasons were based in racism or sexism,” says Bill Purcell, a professor of communication at Seattle Pacific University. “But that’s not always true.”

The number-one rule of engagement, though, is to empathize. “Listen to understand—not to respond,” says Elizabeth Cabibi, a family therapist in downtown Seattle. “It won’t work if you let your emotions get the best of you.” That doesn’t mean you have to like what they say. Feel free to respectfully disagree and offer facts that support your point of view. But also know when to walk away. “You may have to say, ‘We’re probably not going to agree on this’ and move on,” Purcell says. “But at least you tried.”

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