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Last night, Piers Morgan harangued anti-gun control advocate John Lott Jr. on his show Piers Morgan Tonight (click photo for full clip).  He repeatedly asked Lott questions but never let Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, answer fully.  Morgan called on Alan Dershowitz for his opinion, and Dershowitz contributed to Morgan’s attack by calling Lott’s research junk science, research that “would be laughed out of court”.  Lott never lost his cool but at one point asked Morgan to stop filibustering so he could answer all the questions asked of him.  When he began to answer, however, Morgan attacked him again, asking how Lott would explain himself to the Colorado victims and their families.

This is not how to have a constructive debate over gun control.

This morning, in teaching the Rogerian method of compromise, I used Piers Morgan’s pseudo-debate to illustrate how not to have a debate.  Rather, I proposed using humanist psychologist Carl Rogers‘ method of trust, empathy, and open communication.  Rogers used his own methods to facilitate social conflicts across the globe; his approach seems most useful to holding a productive debate on gun control, especially in these heated times after the Aurora, Colorado shooting.  Had Piers Morgan used Roger’s principles of communication, he might have had a more effective conversation with Lott, and could have been an example to Americans on how to proceed toward finally having a real discussion on gun control.  Instead, he was emotional, fixed in attack mode, constantly referenced the victims, and spoke over Lott, effectively silencing him.  This was not an interview, but an act of serious aggression toward someone who doesn’t share his position.

The Rogerian method is useful in so many areas of life.  I use it with students to negotiate late papers or new grades.  Among Rogers’ techniques is the importance of finding common ground, shared goals and values, which we can all find between us if we work hard enough.  I usually say the reason Congress doesn’t quite work is because each member is convinced of his or her position, refusing to concede to others for fear of looking weak on the issues, for fear of being called a flip-flopper.  My students this morning worked on the gun control issue, focusing mostly on common ground:  what do gun-control advocates have in common with anti-gun control advocates (or the NRA)?  We all want to feel safe, secure, and un-threatened, they said.  We all want to have our constitutional rights respected.  And, intriguingly, we all recognise the power of guns.  If Piers Morgan (and I’m a fan, though not of his performance last night) had started his interview with John Lott by finding common ground or even simply by listening to Lott’s ideas and research findings, he might have gotten somewhere.

Shouting matches make for good television but they don’t help for working progress on the real issues that trouble our daily lives.

Roger’s Principles of Communication 

1.  Threat hinders communication.  When a person feels threatened by what another person is saying, he or she is apt to stop listening in order to protect the ego and reduce anxiety.

2.  Making strong statements of opinion stimulates an audience to respond with strong opinions (or silence).  Once people have expressed their opinions, they are more likely to be interested in defending them rather than discussing them.

3.  Biased language increases threat; neutral language reduces it.

4.  One reduces threat and increases the chance for communication by demonstrating one understands the other person’s point of view.

5.  One improves communication by establishing an atmosphere of trust.

Source:  Empire State College Online

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