Political placeholder

Our 5 Takeaways from Robb Willer’s TEDx Talk About Political Conversations

By Javier

Spot.IM is now known as OpenWeb.

Every day we witness thousands of commenters and community members having passionate conversations about various political news stories. We see people with vastly different political views coming together to talk about the topics that they care about. But as encouraging as these discussions are, there’s no denying that the current political landscape seems hopelessly polarized.

We strongly believe in free speech. We stand for the right of people to thrive in a community that proudly mirrors their political DNA. Liberal or Conservative, Democrat or Republican, we more than invite hearty debates from all parts of political spectrum. And in that spirit, we would love to share an exciting TEDx Talk by Robb Willer on political conversations.

Without going into too many spoilery details, Mr. Willer distills and diagnoses our present political divide in terms of how we communicate (or do not communicate) with one another. His overarching message is crystal clear, and it’s one of unity. Below we’ve gathered the points we feel hit home the most. The ones we see most often and think what can be done?

1) “So one of the most robust findings in the history of political psychology is this pattern identified by Jon Haidt and Jesse Graham, psychologists, that liberals and conservatives tend to endorse different values to different degrees. So for example, we find that liberals tend to endorse values like equality and fairness and care and protection from harm more than conservatives do. And conservatives tend to endorse values like loyalty, patriotism, respect for authority and moral purity more than liberals do. And Matt Feinberg and I were thinking that maybe this moral divide might be helpful for understanding how it is that liberals and conservatives talk to one another and why they so often seem to talk past one another when they do.”


2) “People’s moral values, they’re their most deeply held beliefs. People are willing to fight and die for their values. Why are they going to give that up just to agree with you on something that they don’t particularly want to agree with you on anyway? If that persuasive appeal that you’re making to your Republican uncle means that he doesn’t just have to change his view, he’s got to change his underlying values, too, that’s not going to go very far.”

3) “So if you want to move conservatives on issues like same-sex marriage or national health insurance, it helps to tie these liberal political issues to conservative values like patriotism and moral purity. And we studied it the other way, too. If you want to move liberals to the right on conservative policy issues like military spending and making English the official language of the US, you’re going to be more persuasive if you tie those conservative policy issues to liberal moral values like equality and fairness.”


4) “If you want to persuade someone on some policy, it’s helpful to connect that policy to their underlying moral values. And when you say it like that it seems really obvious. Right? It’s incredibly intuitive. And even though it is, it’s something we really struggle to do. You know, it turns out that when we go to persuade somebody on a political issue, we talk like we’re speaking into a mirror. We don’t persuade so much as we rehearse our own reasons for why we believe some sort of political position.”


5) “Let’s put this country back together. Let’s do it despite the politicians and the media and Facebook and Twitter and Congressional redistricting and all of it, all the things that divide us. Let’s do it because it’s right. And let’s do it because this hate and contempt that flows through all of us every day makes us ugly and it corrupts us, and it threatens the very fabric of our society. We owe it to one another and our country to reach out and try to connect. We can’t afford to hate them any longer, and we can’t afford to let them hate us either. Empathy and respect. Empathy and respect. If you think about it, it’s the very least that we owe our fellow citizens.”


We hope these nuggets of wisdom connected with you. They certainly connected with us. “Empathy and respect” are indeed wonderful guideposts. Especially when you’re having a difficult discussion with someone who does not share your same political/moral compass.

What has been your most difficult political discussion?

Let’s have a conversation.

Right now OpenWeb has a limited number of partners we can work with in order to provide the highest quality service to each and every one. Let us know you’re interested and stay informed about how OpenWeb is empowering publishers and advertisers to change online conversations for good.