Sides are for partisans, positions are for citizens, expert says

Oct 12, 2023, 11:00 AM | Updated: 11:16 am

Vice President Kamala Harris and Former Vice President Mike Pence picked sides during the 2020 vice...

Vice President Kamala Harris and Former Vice President Mike Pence picked sides during the 2020 vice presidential debate. (Spenser Heaps/Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Thinking in terms of position instead of choosing a side can lead to a shift in mindset when considering important issues, according to William Deresiewicz, an author, critic, and essayist. 

“Are there really only two sides to every question?” Deresiewicz posed that question in his essay titled “Take a Position, Not a Side.”

Choosing a side creates arguments and contempt for the other. It creates closed-mindedness by projecting the idea that there are only two sides, and they are opposites. The act of “choosing a side” fuels debate, as one side tries to win, according to Deresiewicz. 

Unlike coins, issues often have more than two sides. Deresiewicz said that changing our vocabulary to choose a position creates open-mindedness. In turn, it can lead to better listening and discussion. 

Additionally, choosing a position requires people to be less emotional and reflective than choosing a side, said Deresiewicz. It requires you to be more thoughtful. To choose a position, you must decide what you actually think. 

The “position” approach

The “position” approach leads to conversation. The “sides” approach leads to argument and debate. At the end of the day, the “position” approach can lead to the discovery that solutions can come from ideas of different positions. 

“This is something that just struck me one day,” said Deresiewicz about his essay. The change in vocabulary from “side” to “position” can lead to a shift in mindset. 

Deresiewicz said that we often only hear two positions because they are the ones that are the “approved position on the two sides of the argument.” 

There are a bunch of different places to land on issues. Often, the best solutions come from a combination of different positions. 

Boyd Matheson, the host of KSL NewsRadio’s Inside Sources compared positions to a compass. Deresiewicz agreed with Matheson’s sentiment. 

“The metaphor that you used, which is [a] compass … not spectrum or line, [or] when we say from right to left, even there, we’re talking about this line … you talk about compass, there’s a little dimensionality there. Things can go in different directions,” Deresiewicz said. 

Bringing different positions together to create a conversation can lead to a combination of the best elements of each. 

Positions are for citizens

Deresiewicz’s essay said that sides are for partisans and positions are for citizens. 

“The logic and psychology of partisanship is, ‘we must destroy the other side, you know, we must win, and also the other side is not legitimate,” said Deresiewicz. 

The logic of citizens is that the other side is legitimate, according to Deresiewicz. There is still disagreement, however, they have an equal place in our republic. 

“That’s really an idea that has really gotten lost in the current environment,” Deresiewicz said. 

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Sides are for partisans, positions are for citizens, expert says