Focus on Their Values
These conversations work best when they are genuine to the way you and this person already interact: genuine to your history, your rapport. Use your knowledge of this person - how they think, how they talk, what they like, and most importantly, what they value - to shape the conversation. Focusing on their values and how they are affected by an issue is a great way to shift their thinking.
So start your conversation there: if you can name some of their values, do so. Say “I know how much you care about __________ [your family, your faith, your friends, being respected, your neighborhood, the country, our safety, fairness, freedom, etc.]” If you’re not sure, ask them: “What do you value the most? What’s most important to you?”
Then, tie everything in your conversation back to that value. Frame the information about oppression with values that they’ve expressed and include how their life and those values are affected by the oppression. Show them that what they value can actually line up with the social justice values you’re talking about. The same goes for how they are affected by an issue - most people in positions of power don’t realize that oppression of the powerless actually negatively affects them also. The examples below offer frameworks for how to express that kind of argument:
- They say: “Black Lives Matter is a hateful group that’s hurting the country.”
- They value: their family.
- You say: “I know your family is the most important thing to you. Family is so important to me too. It’s one of the main reasons I care so much about ensuring everyone in this country has equal access to resources and justice. I’ve been thinking a lot about how if I’m not fighting to ensure justice, I’m not really doing right by my family. I also know that the more opportunities people of color have in our community, the richer our community will be. That’s why I support Black Lives Matter - our family can only benefit from living in a fairer, more inclusive community.”
- They say: “We don’t have a problem with gender inequality. Women have plenty of opportunities here.”
- They value: the country
- You say: “Look, women may have more opportunities than they used to but overall women still get paid less than men - especially women of color. Think about the effect that has on the country overall. When women don’t get paid what they deserve, families suffer. Very few families have only a male breadwinner anymore. This means that if women do not receive as much money as their male counterparts, mothers cannot bring as much money home to support their families. This obviously is an especially harmful issue for single-mom families and families with two moms. On a macro level, denying women equal pay means that we are preventing half the country from achieving their full economic potential. Women deserve equal pay because they are humans who deserve equality to men in everything. But the economic upside of paying women as much as men cannot be denied - it means all families get more money. It means single women consumers have more to spend in our economy. We all win when women get paid equally. Why wouldn’t we want to keep pushing for that?”
- They say: “I just don’t get this trans thing. Why are we focusing on bathrooms instead of jobs and the economy?”
- They value: The economy
- You say: “I just think that when we keep groups of people from reaching their full potential, everybody loses. There’s no way to know what we’ve already missed out on by barring trans people from living their lives as their full selves for years. We could have already had the cure for cancer or dozens more great American novels if we didn’t sneer at trans people and tell them to stop being ‘weird,’ or drive them to suicide or kill them. If we want our country to be the best it can be, if we want access to the best minds to solve the world’s problems, we can’t systematically deny people from living their lives to the fullest. Our economy needs stable people with good educations to innovate new ways of getting people to work, so why would we try to make school life hell for thousands of kids who could otherwise grow up to be those innovators? Why shouldn’t we make the pool of potential economic drivers as big as possible?”
Note: It’s important to make clear that the biggest reason to fight against oppression is NOT because it’s harmful for people already in power. However, we believe that it’s helpful to highlight for those who do have power how they are affected as well, because it can encourage them to take action against oppression when they otherwise may not have.