Be polite, talk politics.
Those two recommendations aren’t often linked.
Politics is still big news and it doesn’t look like it’s going to fade into the background any time soon. We have created a time in this country right now where the political divide is wide, with rough edges. People are getting louder in expressing their opinions. And that can be good – the United States is a democracy and democracy works best when the citizens are actively involved. But what does that mean for getting along in our little corner of the world?
Some of us were raised not to talk about politics in a group, it wasn’t polite. These times may call for a different approach. There’s a lot going on and we are going to talk about politics. Let’s just do so politely. That is, with courtesy and respect for everyone.
We don’t have to hide our opinions from the world just to get along. In fact, in a democracy it’s crucial that we work for what we feel is right. We are the government. We must be involved to fight for what is right. That does not, however, mean denigrating our neighbors who hold different opinions.
If we find ourselves belittling the character of someone with whom we disagree, calling them names, or being mean in other ways, we need to pause. Talking politics doesn’t have to involve meanness or cruelty or assuming the other person is a monster or stupid. It is so easy for us to equate people with their opinions: If we don’t like their opinions, we don’t like the people. But two good people can have honest differences of opinion and making one of them bad only leads to increased separation.
Keep in mind that making personal attacks can say more about us than about the person we’re badmouthing. When we go for the person rather than the idea, it might be taken as a sign that we’re afraid of the ideas the other person is talking about. Or even that we don’t know how to argue against the ideas we feel are wrong.
We must respect ourselves, too. Silence is often taken as agreement, so we may need to speak up to make it clear that we do not agree with what is being said. We can do that by stating our own position and even arguing about it. That’s fine. The Founding Fathers called this “discourse”.
However, we may not want to get into it right then. In that case, we can say something as simple as, “I do not agree with your position. I don’t want to go into it, but I need to make it clear that I do not agree.” Then, we can change the subject or leave the conversation. (What will not foster getting along is to drop a big bomb of insults and then say we don’t want to talk about it!)
All of this doesn’t mean we must accept views we strongly disagree with or even find abhorrent. And, yes, there are a few people who do not have the common good in mind. Yet we have a much better chance of making positive change if we bring others along. Community doesn’t work if we decide the opinions of others are not worth considering. We need to remember that we’re all in this together.
Wherever two or more are gathered, there are politics! We don’t have to be quiet around politics. Go ahead and talk about politics; just be polite about it.