The December 2020 issue of Reason contains a wide-ranging interview of Jonathan Rauch by Nick Gillespie. Part of the interview touches on how and why to engage with people who are not necessarily interested in listening with an open mind.
Gillespie: What’s the appeal to people? Obviously I agree with you when you talk about a liberal society being a good one. The idea of intellectual or ideological pluralism, I’m all in. But people who are saying, “That’s a false front for a system that is rigged against trans people, against black people, and against other types of racial, ethnic, ideological, or sexual minorities”—how do you engage them when they are not interested necessarily in hearing what you have to say?
Rauch: How do you engage with them? The single most common question I get when I talk about free speech and open inquiry on college campuses comes from a student—usually it will be a freshman, sometimes it’s a sophomore—who says, “What do I say, Mr. Rauch, when I try to speak up in a conversation and I’m told, ‘Check your privilege. You can’t say that.’ What do I do when I’m disqualified from the conversation because I don’t have the minority perspective?”
I used to try to say all kinds of things that they could say: “Try this. Try that.” That wasn’t a good answer. Then I began telling them, “Well, you figure it out. You know how to talk to your generation. I don’t.” That wasn’t a good answer.
The answer that I finally settled on—though the first two were also partly true—was: “It doesn’t matter all that much what you say to them, because they’re not listening. That’s what they’re telling you. They’re not listening. What matters is that you not shut up. They do not have the power to silence you if you do not allow yourself to be silenced. Insist on your right to continue the conversation to say what you want to say. Don’t slink away. You won’t necessarily persuade those people, but, as we found in the gay marriage debate, your real target is that third person on the periphery of the circle of the conversation who is seeing one person acting rationally and reasonably and other people acting irrationally and unreasonably. You’re probably winning the heart and mind of that third person, so don’t shut up.”