Can’t We All Just Get Along? 4 Things to Consider When Talking Politics
Have you ever turned off the TV, given up Facebook, or avoided certain people, because you’re tired of the political rants?
The negativity, insults, and offensive language seem to be at an all time high (or perhaps we’re more aware of it now with technology). It’s exhausting. Even those of us who love politics, participate in campaigns, thrive in election years, and carry pocket Constitutions (yes, I actually do – don’t judge) get worn out from the level of conversations around us.
In our culture today, a difference of political opinion immediately equates to confrontation. It’s almost like it triggers our fight or flight response. We feel the need to “fight” and to defend to the end our position by whatever words and means necessary. Or, we shut it down, change the topic, and run away from the conversation. Why is that? How did we get here?
By its very nature, politics lends itself to disagreement. It always has and always will. I think, however, that the quality of discourse has diminished dramatically in recent years.
Perhaps the following have contributed to the disintegration of productive political discussion:
- We think it’s our identity. We label ourselves as Republican or Democrat or liberal or conservative. We hold fast to what that identity means to us. We tend to see it as a large part of who we are. So, when someone challenges that, we tend to get overly defensive. They’re not only attacking our political persuasion but our personhood. In The Reason for God, Timothy Keller captures this concept best: “If we get our very identity, our sense of worth, from our political positions, then politics is not really about politics, it is about us. Through our cause we are getting a self, our worth. That means we must despise and demonize the opposition.” (His point, of course, is that our true identity is not found in a political party.)
- We’re told not to. We’re told not to discuss politics in most, if not all, settings. So we don’t. And now we’ve apparently forgotten how to do so. Of course, there is a time and a place. However, we silence political discussion even among friends. We do not know how to communicate well with those who have different viewpoints, so we don’t actually converse with them at all. By doing so, unfortunately, we contribute to the polarization of our society.
- We can hide on social media. With the rise of social media, people can make comments without any accountability. People take liberty to say things that they (most likely) would never say to someone’s face. Respect and integrity get lost in the world of the Internet.
- We like to be comfortable. Discussing politics with someone who has opposing views is challenging. It causes us to really think about our opinions and why we hold them. Instead of going through that intellectual exercise, it’s easier to sling personal attacks or wisecracks. It takes less effort, and our culture is all about taking the easy way out.
So, what can we do? Particularly in an election year, it’s important to share ideas. How do we do that productively? Here are 4 things to consider when talking politics:
- Check emotions. Many of us care (a lot) about the issues in our country, and I’m glad we do. Passion is a good thing. And some policies or actions should even make us righteously angry or indignant. But responding emotionally, especially toward another person, does more harm than good. Take a deep breath and appreciate the opportunity to share ideas. A little respect can go a long way. We’ll all benefit from rational discussion.
- Stop personal attacks. Just stop. Really. Commenting on physical appearances, cursing at people, or intentionally embarrassing them personally is not worth anyone’s time. It reflects more negatively on the speaker than the hearer. Stick to the issues.
- Practice. Perhaps with a trusted friend, practice articulating your viewpoints respectfully over a cup of coffee. Actively listen to your friend’s opinions and thoughtfully consider responses. Your ultimate viewpoints may not change (or actually may be strengthened), but I bet there will be increased compassion and understanding. And at the end of the conversation? Hug it out. Seriously. You’ll both feel better.
- Learn. Really hear what other people are saying and try to understand issues from various perspectives. Sometimes listening to opposing viewpoints helps us tweak our perspectives, and other times we feel more confidently about our own views. Either way, it will benefit all of us to think more deeply.
This is definitely not easy, and none of us apply these concepts perfectly. And, of course, we can only control our own actions, but if we start engaging and responding differently, then maybe others will, too.
It really is okay if someone disagrees with us. They are not our enemy, and we shouldn’t treat them like one. How fortunate are we to live in a country that values freedom of speech. The exchange of differing viewpoints and opinions is so important. I hope we choose to exercise our right in a way that doesn’t bring each other down but, instead, builds our society up.