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How to Have a Polite Discussion Even When Tempers are Flairing.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | June 20, 2018

No. 1,507

Sister Valerie Zottolla of Casa San Jose had some advice for all of us for effective communication, even with adversaries, involving highly emotional topics. Although she specifically references the issue of separation of families at the border, her words are equally applicable to dispute resolution and finding common ground with an adversary. Here it is, unedited:

Dear Amigas and Friends,
  We know so many of you feel as we do—sad, heavy-hearted, angry, maybe outraged, etc.—over the separation of families at our borders, resulting in thousands of children placed in detention centers. . .   and, feeling powerless in the face of such an overwhelming atrocity.  We have sent you information regarding some ways in which you might use your compassion to influence lawmakers.  We would like to offer you this challenge, now:
If you know of someone—just 1 person—who is in support of this policy; invite them into a conversation with you about it,  perhaps over a cup of coffee or tea.
  • Pray for the grace to be respectful and open.
  • LISTEN — without trying to build up defensive arguments against any of the points they are making—intently, trying to understand their point of view.  This will not be easy.
  • RESPECT the person; pay more attention to the “person” than to what they are saying.  And, then, of course, share your point of view.
You may or may not be able to do this, especially in such an emotionally charged time; but if you are, it could be a significant step in trying to build understanding and mutual respect…..putting one more building block in that bridge that so divides us, as a country.  It is this division that is fueling such atrocities.
Don’t feel discouraged if you leave with no resolution……try your best, though, to leave with mutual respect.  Oftentimes, such conversations are only the “beginning” in transforming one’s thinking; the planting of seeds, that only God knows how/when they will flower.
Once again, IF you feel able to do this, it could be valuable; but don’t hesitate to admit to yourself, that right now may not be the best time for you to engage in such a conversation.
“You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those persecuting…” (Matthew 5: 43-44)
With gratitude for all your support.
If you would like to know more about Casa San Jose and its mission, click the link in the box on the top of the left column of this blog.  It links to the CSJ website.  This organization is an outreach of the Sisters of St. Joseph to Latino families living in our community.


CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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