How To Have Better Conversations In The Time Of Social Distress

Going through one’s Facebook feed these days seem to produce more stress than the usual entertainment it provides. The omnipresent criticisms on the Philippine government’s handling of the COVID-19 situation and the never-ending back and forth between those who are for and against the current administration.

Also present in all this is the obvious and quite often reckless single perspective of people: either you are for or against the government. Last time I checked, there’s no law saying you needed to take sides.

But why do people like to think in binary terms? Plainly because it’s easy. As Hans Rosling says in his book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, “It saves a lot to think like this. You can have opinions and answers without having to learn about a problem from scratch and you can get on with using your brain for other tasks.”

However, not everything is black and white. We can criticize the current administration for some lapses while at the same time offer praise for some of its more promising efforts. Yes, to hold two opposing opinions about a certain topic is possible. The ability to hold two differing opinions within your mind or consciousness is an example of mental maturity.

Again, Hans Rosling, “Being always in favor of or always against any particular idea makes you blind to information that doesn’t fit your perspective.”

By thinking in binary terms—specifically in the topic of being pro- or anti-admin—you create this false dichotomy where people are either on one side or the other completely ignoring the fact that one can be on both sides at the same time. It is not zero-sum.

Generalizing doesn’t help either. Once you’ve forced a label on someone (e.g. DDS or dilawan), it will be hard for you to understand and see things from their point of view. A mentally mature person can both agree and disagree with certain narratives from either side.

The author F. Scott Fitzgerald pointed out, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” 

So how does one solve this? By practicing gray thinking. Look at problems from multiple angles and perspectives to get a more accurate understanding, find practical middle grounds, and ultimately make better arguments. It also guards one from giving in to ad-hominem attacks—a last resort usually of those who’ve run out of thoughtful things to say.

The answer is: yes, it is possible to have better conversations. Having said that, it takes effort, patience, and being mindful of the things we say and are about to say.

If, however, after having read all this and you still don’t see the possibility of progressive discourse and would rather take the easy route and typecast people by fixating on which side they’re on, then I’d suggest you ask yourself where the real problem lies. 


I write these essays to express myself and learn more about certain topics that pique my interest. If you have any thoughts or ideas related to the entry above, please leave a comment below.

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