I almost titled this one “Street Epistemology and the Need to Feel Like Someone Wants to Understand You” but I couldn’t nail that sentence until I stopped trying to write it as the title. Strange.
Anyway, I’ve been observing and practising Street Epistemology for some years now and have found it ridiculously helpful for navigating through heated and sensitive discussions.
SE is a conversational method that actually originated with Socrates, based on asking questions that allow for in-depth discussion about potentially controversial subjects in a non-confrontational way. When done right, this method of communication proves to be immensely empowering for anyone involved, even the practitioner of SE. I’ve had some conversations where what I was listening to would otherwise make me want to bang my head against the wall, but it was my determination to practice perfect Street Epistemology that got me through that and allowed for what turned out to be decent discussions.
That’s not always the case, of course. Just like you have to pick your battles, you have to pick your conversations wisely.
The kinds of questions I find myself asking people are the kinds of questions I’ve noticed people don’t often ask. But these same people do seem to notice and appreciate that kind of thing, and it’s here where I’ve realised some of them allow themselves to let their guard down. When they hear the machinations of your brain working to put out that next question that enables further understanding for both of you and they detect the sincerity with which you handle their answers, they know that you’re not just out there trying to disprove them, to get a gotcha moment, to get into debate, etc.
The most common responses I’ve received and observed in others, when the SE is done right, are a mixture of comments about how fun it was, how different it was, and, sometimes, how relieved the other person felt by the end of it — relieved, because either they knew something about my perspective and thought I might want to debate them, or because they knew nothing about my perspective and still thought I might want to debate them.
No, I remember my responses to those rare moments of feeling that the person whose company I’m in really wants and is actively trying to understand where I’m coming from. It’s a rare feeling — I can probably count on my dad’s right hand how many times I’ve experienced it. It had me feeling…