Two community members skilled at teaching students to deal with bullying held a public event on Sunday to help adults learn to have constructive conversations about politics.
Andy Horne and Pamela Orpinas, researchers who wrote a book about their techniques for preventing bullying, were on hand Sunday at the Oconee County Library for visitors looking for ways to talk about topics with people who disagree with them.
The event was part of the 100+ Days of Action campaign encouraging people to become more active in politics and their communities during the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency.
“One of the things that became apparent very quickly was that there has been an increase in aggression among people, and I always wondered what would I do in that situation,” said Linda Gilbert, a co-organizer of the 100+ Days of Action effort.
Many people at the event said they would freeze or stay silent if they saw a wrongdoing or someone expressed an opinion they didn’t agree with.
“It appears that there are more people speaking out and in less civil terms now than before,” Horne said. “Engaging is important because we view silence as implicit agreement.”
Orpinas added that many people have privileges over others in our society, and they can use their status to stand up for others.
For instance, one visitor described an incident at a kids soccer match where a set of parents went up to a Mexican family and told them to go back to where they came from.
Horne suggested comforting the victims as a powerful way to show disagreement with the situation while not starting an argument.
“You could walk up, put your arm around the family’s shoulder, say, ‘I don’t agree with what you said. It’s offensive,’ and walk away,” Horne said.
Other ways of dealing with conflict without escalating the situation are to set limits, such as saying, “We don’t do that here,” Horne said.
Also, it can be helpful to disagree with someone by replying, “That hasn’t been my experience with those people. I’ve really enjoyed my time with them, and I think there are good things about them being here,” Horne said.
Orpinas emphasized the importance of understanding the person you disagree with.
“People act in ways that we sometimes don’t understand, but it’s helpful to know that they’re doing the best they can with the information they have,” she said.
For instance, someone who acts out in aggressive ways may have picked that up as a method of expressing anger as a child.
Orpinas and Horne said there isn’t a foolproof method for reacting to every situation that will always end in success. However, they agreed that it’s important to react, instead of standing silently, to every situation you disagree with in a civil manner.
“Every time we are silent when something is happening that is a new low because we’re accepting that as the norm,” Orpinas said.
Upcoming events in the 100+ Days of Action include a self defense class on March 19 at 3 p.m., a talk on climate change on March 22 at 5:30 p.m. and a talk on the power of citizen advocacy on April 3 at 3 p.m. A full list of events is online at myathensis.com/100daysathens.
Follow reporter Hilary Butschek on Twitter @hilarylbutschek or at https://www.facebook.com/hbutschek.