Episode 015: Navigating Polarizing Conversations with Julia Burkstaller

April 02, 2020

Right now when we’re releasing this episode we’re in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and things are changing around us all the time. We recorded it a while ago before this all started, but we think you’ll still find a lot that’s relevant to what’s going on and how people are talking about it. We hope you’re safe and healthy, and that you enjoy our conversation with Julia.

We asked our friend and colleague Julia Burkstaller to join us as a subject matter expert to talk about how to get through tough conversations and situations that girls, and really all of us, get into with our friends, family, people at school and work, and social media communities about politics and other polarizing topics. Julia is the Advocacy and Development Manager at Girl Scouts and has a lot of expertise and experience in talking to people who have different views. She joined us to provide some tools to help get us through these situations with our relationships and mental health intact. We acknowledge that the topics and tools covered in this episode are really hard!

When we say that a topic is polarizing, we're talking about things that tend to push people onto very separate sides with different beliefs and points of view. We know a lot of girls go through this, and it can be really stressful and bring up a lot of emotions. Julia helped us understand that a lot of times the main issue is that we're dealing with a binary, or false dichotomy. What that means is sort of a fake choice, where you're only offered two options when really there are many different opinions and ways of thinking about something, including a middle area where you understand and agree with parts of both sides. We're here to tell you that there's really no "right" side in these types of issues - it's all about your lived experience, and the values and beliefs of your family and close community.

We talked with Julia about the idea of getting involved in the culture of outrage we often see on TV and online, which can contribute to keeping us separate and angry at each other. News outlets with biased reporting and negative social media comments can contribute to that outrage and stir things up in a way that can drain your energy and make you feel angry and anxious. Try to be aware of when this is happening, and find ways to stay positive and keep yourself out of those negative news spirals.

Getting all of your news and information about local, national, and world issues from celebrities and other public figures on social media can be a little dangerous - it's important to find trusted sources to help you form your own opinions and know what you stand for. But you don't have to know everything about everything, that would be overwhelming! Figure out which issues you feel strongly about and focus on those. Julia talks about not necessarily having to have a strong opinion about everything, but being open to listening to people's stories and using empathy to come to conclusions.

Something else we talked about is how our opinions about these big topics and issues can be tied to our identity, which is what makes it so hard to not feel like we're being attacked or feed into the outrage culture. But there are some things we can do to help us find connection and a little more peace instead of outrage and anger. Here are some tools we took away from our conversation:

Empathy: This is feeling someone's emotions, passion, or pain and recognizing their experience.
Not dehumanizing another person: This means not bringing someone down from a human level, which can fuel hatred.
Ask questions! Find out where the other person is coming from and have a dialogue.
Doing an energy check: Are you in a good place to approach a hard conversation without negativity or picking a fight? Even just having a bad day can contribute to hurting a relationship when you're having these polarizing...