My 80-20 Theory

Written by Wil

Towards the end of a nearly two-hour debate over abortion, I asked: Do you believe an 11-year-old girl who was raped by her father should be forced to have his baby?

He replied: No, of course not.

In other words, he’s essentially pro-life – but with reasonable limits.

I then conceded that I don’t believe a woman should be able to have an abortion if, when she’s 9-months pregnant, she finds out that her baby has brown eyes, but she’d prefer one whose eyes were blue.

So, I’m pro-choice – but also with reasonable limits.

And this is the idea behind my 80-20 Theory.

Conservative vs. Snowflake

My belief is that most of us agree about most things – at least to some degree. 

What I’ve found from listening and talking to people from very diverse backgrounds, who hold vastly different beliefs, is that a majority of us – maybe 80% – can usually find at least some common ground (if we try), and it’s likely that we share similar goals – even if our views on how to achieve them are remarkably dissimilar.

80-20 Theory: Most of us agree about most things, to some degree.

The friend who I was debating abortion with is staunchly conservative. On virtually every important issue, he comfortably occupies an end of the ideological spectrum that’s furthest from my own.

However, he’s also one of the finest, most empathetic and intellectually gifted people I know. He’s an amazing dad, husband and friend. We share nearly identical goals.


He doesn’t fit the mold of someone I would assume holds these types of beliefs (and hopefully vice-versa). Debating with him has helped me to withhold my assumptions about other people I find myself debating with – especially when it’s online and not in person. We often form a pretty narrow view of the people who disagree with us, which makes it difficult to listen.

However, I have found that, many times, if I can pause the conversation for a moment and throw out something reasonable that might be agreeable to both of us, the entire tone of the conversation can change almost immediately. We still disagree, but suddenly, we’re not yelling at each other from across the room – but sharing a similar space and discussing how best to utilize it.

Therefore, we’ve learned that we can vigorously disagree, but find a common thread. He’ll never convince me to believe in his God, just like I’ll never convince him to give his up. But we can find some fundamental principles that we use to guide our lives – his through religion, and mine through humanism.

It’s Actually a 10-80-10 Theory

What about that other 20%?

Well, that’s the 10% on each side who hold the most extreme interpretations an issue. On social media, those folks are typically loud, stubborn and aggressive. And because they’re so loud, they tend to gain the most attention and often end up monopolizing the conversation, ruining opportunities for important civil discourse.

They’ll stake out the most fanatical representations of a position and depict extreme scenarios that are meant to either incite fear in those who are already in moderate agreement, or provoke angry, irrational responses from those with moderately opposed views, therefore blurrying the actual moderate argument. We’re giving these views credibility and widening the divide between opposing moderate views.

For instance, if someone on social media posts an article about Planned Parenthood selling baby parts – that’s an extreme view, which is baiting a person holding a rational view in support of a woman’s right to choose into arguing 

and baiting us into either defending or pushing back against these outlier opinions – often pushing us further towards the extreme side of our own arguments, often to the point where we find ourselves defending views that no longer represent our own. Even if we don’t take the bait, those voices can easily be confused as representative of the *** position – leaving us with the impression that this is an accurate depiction of what the other side believes.

And before we know it? We begin to sound like the 20%. That’s why it often seems as if the reverse is true – that 80% of people hold extreme views and only 20% of us are reasonable. We tend to assume that the loudest voice in the room is winning the debate (though it’s often the opposite).

 It’s a very personal issue for both of us, for very different reasons, and neither of us could fathom the possibility that we were wrong.


Now, we could debate where those limits are. If the girl is 12? 13? Any instance of incest? Of rape? Would I oppose an abortion over the eye color if the mother was 8 months pregnant? 7? Am I against abortion because of eye color?

Those are reasonable discussions that people can respectfully have. What we did was – we found the common ground. We spent nearly 2 hours painting each other as the extreme versions of our arguments – the baby-killer vs. the guy who wants to control women’s bodies. When, in reality, we aren’t nearly as far apart as it seemed.

I’m pro-choice, but I don’t like abortion. I wish they never had to happen. I just believe that it isn’t my place to decide that. And he doesn’t want control over women. He just holds very strong religious beliefs and believes that there’s a soul inside of the fetus from the moment of conception.

And we’re never going to come to an agreement on that aspect of it. But instead of trying to convince one another to adopt our view, it was much more effective to find some form of common ground, and work from there.


This flies in stark contrast of what we’re made to believe when we see someone on Facebook posting an argument in support of an opposing view. We’ve been conditioned to apply a set of assumptions and generalizations to anyone holding a specific view – and we’re armed with our well-rehearsed arguments, ready to type them into oblivion and completely destroy their perspective! We don’t even need to read their replies – we already know what they’re going to say. So we can just keep typing and copy/pasting our own points, paying little attention to theirs, until we eventually close out Facebook feeling overly-satisfied with ourselves, and having gained no new insight from the random stranger we were one-way debating with.

When my friend and I debate, it’s immensely different.  He really is one of my favorite people to debate, because I’m known for doing my research, so


There’s no asterisk to exempt Trump supporters, Hillary supporters, or anyone else. It applies across the board.


– and it’s that most of us agree about most things. That includes Trump supporters, Hillary supporters, and Bernie supporters.

One of my closest friends in the world is staunchly pro-life. I’m pro-choice. He’s pro-***, pro-***, and anti-immigration. I’m the opposite of all those things.

On paper? We couldn’t be any different. If we were to meet on Facebook? We probably wouldn’t get further than a few profanity-laced tirades, where we’d paint one another as anti-American.

This same friend happens to be one of the best dads that I’ve ever known. Loves his kids and is raising them to be incredible young people. From everything I’ve seen, he seems to be a wonderful husband. And I have 15 years of history that tells me he’s an incredible friend.

So, how did this poor-people-hating, women’s-body-controlling, Muslim-***, neo-Nazi becomes friends with a ***-***, ***, snowflake like me?


Politically? He’s conservative, I’m progressive.

On economics? He’s a pure capitalist, and I believe in a more hybrid or mixed socialist-capitalist economy (which is actually what we have in the U.S. currently – although I would prefer to see it skewed even further to encompass higher education and healthcare).

Religious beliefs? His faith in God is unwavering, and mine – well, you can’t really have faith in something that you don’t believe exists. So… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  

Same-sex marriage? He’s against, I support.

Abortion? He’s against, I support.

Stricter gun laws? He’s against, I support.

You get the picture. We can’t even agree on the same sports teams! He likes the Mets, Jets and Knicks; while I like the Yankees, Giants and Nets.

**I grew up a Knicks fan, but also grew up in Brooklyn. Once Jay-Z announced that a team was being brought home to my borough? I had to switch allegiances. But Is It Okay to Switch?

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