Even a casual observation of current events would confirm that American citizens have become more polarized in thought and rhetoric than we could have imagined a decade ago. With anger that often approaches hostility, groups are set against groups, with members of each group vowing 100 percent ownership of the truth. Opinions are becoming more solidified than Stone Mountain.
Now is an excellent time for us to remember a valuable lesson from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. Candidly, he talked about the adamant stands he voiced in his younger days. “Maybe” never crossed his lips. He only listened to opposing thoughts long enough to refute them, often abruptly and condescendingly. A friend said that Franklin “was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing and rather insolent.”
Later in life, he adopted a new way of dealing with people he disagreed with. Abandoning the arrogant style of his youth, he started using these phrases: “the way I look at this,” “it seems to me,” and “I could be mistaken, but ...”
Franklin noticed radical improvement in his communication efforts and how he related to others: “The conversations I engaged in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less contradiction.” For the next 50 years, he noted, no one “ever heard a dogmatic expression” from him.
Franklin’s transition from the rhetoric of conflict to the rhetoric of reconciliation would work wonders with our nation now.