6 lessons learned from Venezuela’s Chavism that might help you during the Trump administration

Despite of what the title might suggest, this is not a partisan article, or an attempt to sway your political position, but a friendly advice from somebody who has spent many years engaging with “political opposition” and who has experienced first hand the frustration of arguing to no end with people I appreciate, but cannot agree with.

This is not a guide or all inclusive source of knowledge on how to approach political discourse, but tips from personal experience. It could be a much longer article, but I won’t test your patience that way. Keep in mind as you go that the main message here is: Stay engaged, learn, discuss and be part of the solution.

All that being said, regardless of your position in all of this, I’ll probably say something you won’t like, so please bear with me.

1.- Trump is our President.

I know, some of you feel he doesn’t represent you (and according to the popular vote that is the majority of you), but the rules are the rules and Trump won the presidential campaign, took the oath and he is, therefore, the 45th President of the United States.

Regardless of your reasoning, logical or emotional, you must embrace the facts like everyone else; this is a very important point to have in mind especially for those who oppose the current administration since you cannot deny reality and demand that others face the facts that you want to bring about.

Also, the most important point in all this, as a President, Trump has become a public servant, unpopular as it might be, but he now works for all of us and it is important that we, united, work and press an agenda that benefit us all, regardless. The oath is not a coronation, nobody has abdicated the country, so if you want to be part of the solution, you must recognize and be part of the process doing as much as you can in order to efficiently effect the decision making process.

2.-Do not dehumanize the opposition

This is, in my opinion, the worst mistake political opponents in Venezuela have made and what has stalled all possibility of civil progress in the country for now almost two decades. The worst part of this problem is that such dehumanization has been promoted by the government itself against the opposition which, in return, has done the same to their pro-government counterparts.

Our Agora is Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, even Instagram are used as our main discussion platforms, where we feel free to express and share our particular viewpoint. The people who we interact with vary in levels of proximity according to the platform (being Facebook probably our closest and most personal audience), so forgetting that behind a particular opinion there is an actual person who, even though might see reality in a different way, is not necessarily removed from the same reality we face.

When somebody tries to vilify anyone who holds an opposing opinion all they are doing is demonstrating their lack of understanding of how a democracy works, only tyrannies demand that everybody holds the same believes and even in those type of situations diversity of opinions always find a way to come about.

When talking to your opponents, close or afar, consider that your might also be talking to your parents, uncles, kids, cousins, friends, people who you love and appreciate despite the fact that you disagree with their political views, it will make you a better person and will pay off once the argument is over.

Somebody much wiser than myself told me once about Aikido and arguments: “In Aikido we don’t adverse the force that is imposed on us, but we receive it, redirected and transform it”. I see similarities between this idea & Hegel’s philosophical model of “Thesis, Antithesis and Syntesis”:

(1) A beginning proposition called a thesis, (2) a negation of that thesis called the antithesis, and (3) a synthesis whereby the two conflicting ideas are reconciled to form a new proposition.

If your argumentation cannot pass the point of simply stating two opposite opinions unable to find a common ground, know that this argument will not serve any positive purpose, so remove yourself from it acknowledging that you’re not going anywhere at this given point, you can always come back to it later with a fresh perspective, don’t feel you have to “win” every argument.

3.- Facts do matter, be ready to back your argument.

We talk about a “post-factual” era in politics, this is certainly nothing new, hence the popularity of “fact checking” political statements; however, the problem doesn’t rely on whether an statement can pass the smelling test or not, the problem truly relies in the deconstruction of information by attacking the credibility of news sources.

We have been witness to a systematic dismantling of news organizations as valid resources of information and the imposition of misinformation in order to influence the public opinion since the electoral campaign. This has brought us to a point where all information, even if verifiable is challenged when it doesn’t fit our particular viewpoint.

Edmund Husserl, father of Phenomenology and in grand part of modern philosophy, proposed a method to analyze reality (phenomena) away from self influence, this method is called “Phenomenological Epoché”:

“Epoché is described as a process involved in blocking biases and assumptions in order to explain a phenomenon in terms of its own inherent system of meaning. One actual technique is known as bracketing. This involves systematic steps to “set aside” various assumptions and beliefs about a phenomenon in order to examine how the phenomenon presents itself in the world of the participant”

You cannot be expected to quote every book or article you’ve  ever read, but you certainly will have to do your research and demonstrate that the information you are using is actual fact and not simple opinion. 

I cannot stress how important this is, if we, as citizens, do not take the facts for what they are, we will fall victims of those who want to impose their own narrative to fulfill their own agendas. Let me just be clear “Alternative Facts” are “No Facts”.

4.- Choose your battles.

No everything you read or hear is debatable  or worth the time and effort, but if you have an interlocutor who is willing to have an open and honest conversation with you, by any means take every chance you can to speak and listen, you both will benefit from the experience and will very likely learn something from each other (Synthesis).

Also, be open and willing to admit when you don’t have enough information, when you have a doubt about a certain point of the conversation or simply do not know something specific, it will not harm you to “park” the conversation and re-take it when  you are better informed, not only the experience will help you humanize the argument (nobody holds the whole truth), but also will give you enough time to research something that you might already be interested on, but realize don’t have all the information necessary for an educated opinion.

Sometimes adults are just kids with bigger mouths (keyboards), but also with a lot more information available to them.

 5.- Know what you mean, everything can be interpreted in more than one way and it will be.

It has been said that where there are two people there are three opinions.

Even when we analyze the very same thing in front of us, our interpretation tends to be influenced by our own assumptions, here the challenge is precisely, and a alongside with point 3, to have a grasp of what you mean.

Be as clear as possible, so that you can leave little room to misinterpretations keeping in mind that the other person might not only listen to what you are saying, but also assume your own opinion on this and other subjects.

We tend to believe that opinions are black & white, either we are all one thing or all the other, missing the fact that most people will differ in opinions about any given subject even if they agree in others or even have the same political, religious, philosophical… tendency. Be careful not to put your assumptions on others.

 6.- Respect is granted, disrespect is earned, we’re all in this together.

Some people seem to have the idea that respect is earned, I will argue that it is quite the opposite. In a society where respect is not freely given is impossible to have a civilized interaction, so make respect the first in the list of things to be granted in any interaction.

Disrespect is, however, earned, so do not act in such a way that you will deserve to be disrespected. At the end of the day, it is about being able to move onto other things with the certainty that your self-integrity as a person is intact and that you have not reduced yourself to somebody who is not worth the time of being engaged with by others.

In my years of interacting with friends I love, but have an opposite position than mine on Venezuelan politics I have always tried to respect myself, them and the friendship that we have had which I value beyond our political positions, I haven’t always felt that this respect is reciprocal, but as a personal decision I avoid becoming what I oppose.

If you behave in the same manner as those you oppose you will have become, but one and the same, even if your positions are radically antagonistic, so make respect the biggest asset of your conversation.

United we will strive, divided we will certainly fall, we don’t all have to think the same way, but we need to be clear on what is our main goal: our society, stay engaged and work on improving it the best way we are able to, that is our duty to our fellow citizens and our future generations.

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