In his farewell address, President Barack Obama encouraged all of us to try do better in the conversations about politics we need to have for our democracy to survive, and he shared several excellent ideas for having difficult conversations with people we don’t agree with.

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He described the power of acknowledging something about the other side at the outset of a discussion – perhaps one argument they are making, or one of their beliefs or fears. He mentioned the importance of being willing to consider new or contrary information and suggested that we observe ourselves so we do not fall victim to our own confirmation bias – a brain shortcut where humans ignore evidence that does not comport with our pre-existing beliefs.

President Obama practices what he preaches when nobody is looking. How do I know? Long before I was directing a law school dispute resolution program and serving as a mediator, I was a Chicago litigator, and Barack Obama was my opposing counsel. I will never forget our first conversation. I was a veteran lawyer at that point and had heard opening volleys from opposing counsel ranging from benign to truly obnoxious. Barack Obama was different. He immediately asked me, “What does she want?”

I was familiar with interest-based negotiation, and his question signaled to me that he was someone open to creative problem-solving. We came up with a solution that worked for both sides and signed a deal quickly and efficiently.

I applaud President Obama for promoting these skills to Americans. I particularly like his parting advice to sit down and listen to people you don’t agree with. Hearing what someone has to say and asking them a few questions to better understand where they are coming from does not mean that you are conceding your interests, and it could lead to finding a way forward.

Teresa F. Frisbie, director, Dispute Resolution Program,
Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Incredibly frustrating

As a 25-year-old working two part-time jobs and living with a severe food allergy, I stand to lose a lot if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. It is incredibly frustrating that a provision as common sense as preventing insurance companies from charging for pre-existing conditions is up for debate yet again.

I’ve been fortunate to have medical coverage through my mom’s employer insurance since graduating college. That coverage has provided me with wellness visits and life-saving medications.

I was looking forward to enrolling on healthcare.gov when I turn 26 this summer. Having insurance is a safeguard against a $25,000 bill if I end up in the hospital after an allergic reaction. Lawmakers should be focused on finding ways to keep premiums and deductibles down, rather than scrapping everything currently in place.

John Gargiulo, Logan Square

Mean-spirited

The Republican move to repeal Affordable Care Act is a vindictive, mean-spirited action on the part of the greedy, crooked GOP. The repeal will leave people with pre-existing medical conditions unable to find coverage and will increase the budget deficit. To make matters worse, the repeal would damage Medicare and Medicaid which are wedded to the ACA. If we allow Republicans to repeal ACA, it will hurt the most vulnerable while giving the wealthiest families a tax cut worth an average of $7 million. Republicans are deceiving Americans telling them ACA is failing — not true! The only failure we are witnessing is the failure of the GOP’s promise to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Ann Gutierrez, Tinley Park