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Nicolas Hanisch

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The digital space: a world full of inspiration and new perspectives?

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Constructive dialogue on the Internet is often called for. But can we really stand counter-opinions? How do we manage to get into a really constructive dialogue that ultimately makes a difference?

Empathy and a feeling for people are prerequisites for civil courage. As it is often the case, the foundation for this is formed in one’s own childhood. Developing self-confidence and communication skills are also required. Indeed, we are talking about a lot of traits and skills and they are important ones. Not only us, but also other people had to realize that digital civil courage is indispensable. Indispensable to reduce hate and achieve more objectivity in online discussions. However, not even that is a guarantee for a constructive dialog with inspiring exchanges of different views.

Constructive dialog does not mean to always agree with the other person. Constructive argumentation also does not mean setting fire to the other person's house just because he or she disagrees - literally and figuratively. A common misconception is the belief that there must be a consensus at the end of a controversial discussion: "I'm arguing to convince the other person of my opinion - that's the real goal of the discussion!" We say, "No, not necessarily." It is much more about questioning one's own point of view in order to then change it at the end of a discussion, for example, or to be even more sure of one's cause.

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But hand on heart: Are you really ready to allow other opinions and to endure it, to part with the words: Very interesting, we have different opinions, but both have their justification and I thank you for your point of view? How often do we talk about diversity, but actually find it exhausting in reality and look for people who are the same to us? 

Prof. Dr. Andrea Römmele, political scientist and author of the book "Zur Sache!" says: "Without controversy, our democracy cannot survive. We need debate to enable public opinion to be formed and to develop constructive proposals for solutions. But today we are seeing that content debate is becoming increasingly rare and that debate has shifted to social media and talk shows. There, people go at each other with unverified facts and assertions, leaving opinions irreconcilably juxtaposed. There is a battle for attention, self-affirmation and the scandalization of the opponent."

Constructive dialog and the exchange of differing opinions are often equated with disagreement and ultimately strife. This has negative connotations in our culture. However, different perspectives are absolutely necessary for the formation of opinions. Römmele says that dispute and argument can be integrating, because only those who are heard can later accept a compromise.

What can you do yourself for more constructive dialog on the web?

  • Make new experiences and bring them into the discussion. There are various approaches and also partners with whom we work that have made it their goal to advance the exchange of controversial arguments. 
  • Diskutier mit mir has developed an app in which everyone first answers questions on socio-political topics with approval or disapproval. An algorithm then matches you with a person with a different opinion who has answered the same questions - but in exactly the opposite way - for an online discussion. A revamped version of the app will be launched in June and is aimed primarily at topics related to the federal election.
  • The Buzzard offers a "daily dose of perspective diversity" and summarizes arguments and research on a topic from as diverse a range of media as possible. The Buzzard started with a podcast in which, on a topic like "Is it good that America is withdrawing its troops from Syria?" one journalist is only allowed to present pro-arguments, the other only con-arguments. This does not lead to a compromise, but to interesting new insights into topics on which one actually already had an opinion. 
  •  Don't just respond in comment columns, but deliberately introduce new arguments! Not every comment needs to be answered. Often it is much more interesting to get completely different aspects that make you think.
  • Moderate your own posts on social media. Moderation means not only rebuking and thanking people for their posts, but also constantly pointing out new aspects of the topic and    supplementing others' comments with your own ideas.

Ask yourself

  • Are you willing to engage with other opinions, even if you think you're on the side of those who hold the "right" opinion? 
  • How inspiring are you yourself in your comments on social media?
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