When exactly did nuances start disappearing in discussions? This occurred to me the other day as I was once again moderating a type of dispute that has become so typical nowadays. There was opinion A. And totally contrary to that was opinion B. With nothing in between. Anyone who was for opinion A was perforce against opinion B. And vice versa. You could also say: If you do not share my opinion, you are my enemy. This is the route more and more discussions are taking today. But that’s not how life works.

The Truth is Rarely a Case for Extremes
In principle, the purpose in clarifying conversations and discussions is to balance interests—not to fight with each other. Otherwise, we could skip the verbal preliminary skirmishing and go straight to fighting a dispute using warlike methods. And of course, no one wants to do that. So how do we get away from viewing opposing opinions as hostile; how do we get away from a purely either-or/black-white perspective? How do we work nuances back into the equation?

Time for a New Discussion Culture
Ultimately, everyone has to start with himself. Because even though one person might be convinced of his own perspective of things, we have to remember that other people might have equally valid arguments that should at least be heard and validated by reflecting them back to them. Without immediately interrupting anyone who dares to take a view different from ours. We all have to learn to allow for nuances in opinions again. Criticism must be allowed. Different values should not be interpreted as a weakness. Of course, adopting a position of allowing for nuances right off the bat can come across as weak. And, of course, those holding extreme positions often feel they can shout down others into silence and ridicule them. But keeping it from getting to that point is the job of good discussion moderation.

Society can only continue developing if a variety of opinions are encouraged
Tolerance during verbal exchange must be the new courtesy. Tolerance does not mean tolerating only that which supports our own opinion. On the contrary, it is mainly about tolerating divergent opinions that might not suit us at all. Freedom of expression is not just an item listed in our Constitution, but is rather a very important prerequisite for a functioning democracy. And to the vast majority of questions, the truth is found in nuances of meaning and perspectives and not in extreme positions. Ultimately, meetings and discussions are ways to negotiate our coexistence by hammering out compromises. Let’s not limit ourselves to a black-and-white view of things.

Birte Karalus