An invitation to participate in my
“Controversial Conversations” Project
Dear Fellow Objectivist,
I am working on a project that some fellow Objectivists will want to participate in. Perhaps you are one of them.
The current threats to free speech and the abysmal state of political discourse motivate me to discuss philosophy with friends, family, and acquaintances. But I sometimes still experience an aversion to conflict, which can sabotage these conversations.
An ongoing personal project of mine has been to transform this aversion into curiosity, and become confident that I can talk with any friend about any controversial topic. I’ve dubbed it my “Controversial Conversations” project.
Specifically, when I find that I disagree with a friend about a philosophical issue, I want the outcome to be an interesting discussion in which both of us learn something, and both of us look forward to talking again. And I want to do this in a way that fully embodies rational egoism. No “being nice” for niceness’ sake. No watering down my views.
Some might think this is a solved problem. There are thousands of people teaching communication skills, and businesses spend millions of dollars each year teaching those skills to their employees. Unfortunately, almost everything is explained and justified in terms of altruism and second-handedness.
I’ve found that most well-known communication techniques have some valid application, but they need to be reconceived on rational, egoistic, principled grounds to make them truly practical, especially if your goal is to discuss controversial topics.
For example, every class on “influencing” others teaches “listening” as a basic skill. Often, this is explained as follows: if you listen politely, the other person will feel honor-bound to listen to you. In other words, it is socially-acceptable manipulation. (!)
The real issue is: do you want to engage with the other person’s mind or not? If you just want the other person to follow your orders, or listen to your ideas, the problem is with your goal, not your listening skills. On the other hand, if you genuinely want to engage with the other person–recognizing that he is an autonomous, thinking being–it is in your selfish interest to draw out his thoughts and listen attentively.
I will simply assert that I’ve learned enough communication skills to see that achieving my goal is possible. What I need now is broad concretization and systematic practice.
This brings me to my invitation.
This concretization and practice would be easier if I could work with other Objectivists who are seeking to develop the same skill. I’m envisioning three kinds of activities:
- Collection of success stories for my analysis. This was the topic of the Meeting of the Minds on 8/28/16 (available to HBL members here). I am also soliciting stories on HBL in discussion on the member forum. You are also invited to share your stories. Just email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Teleclasses and seminars on communication skills, taught from an Objectivist perspective. I have given one free intro video class (which you get a link to if you sign up below) and I expect to give more. In addition, we have had several “Meeting of the Minds” sessions on this topic for HBLers, and will have more.
- 4-Day Communication Intensive: I have developed a 4-day communication intensive for Objectivists. I am currently talking with individuals in several cities to schedule these. Next up is September 23-26 in New York, NY. As they are scheduled, they will be announced to HBLers and to people who sign up on the list here.
- Experimental 3-person practice groups. I have an idea for how to practice these skills by phone using role-playing. I will need some “guinea pigs” to test it out.
This project is a work in progress, but I’m making some progress, as you can see in this video of a conversation discussing Environmentalism:
If this sounds interesting, please fill out the form below. Yes, you will get some solicitations for paid programs. However, even if you participate only in the free offerings, I anticipate that you can speed up your learning curve by joining me. This is an opportunity to take advantage of the work I’ve already done to test communication techniques and validate them on rational, egoistic, principled grounds.