Can We Talk Politics?
Why can’t we reasonably and respectfully talk about things when we have strong reactions to those who experience things differently? And, more importantly, can we find a realistic way to manage our differences?
As we come to end of this chapter of our political process, I want to offer some practical hope for the future. Most Americans (and good a portion of the rest of the world that cares to view our going-ons) think this is the most negative presidential race in memory. Maybe things were ugly before our lifetimes but for most of us there is more name-calling and mud-slinging than we would like.
The base of each party usually starts off the political process with a distaste and distrust for the other party’s nominee and as things move along the rest of the population picks a side. Usually the generic distaste that Republicans and Democrats is such that a civil back and forth discussion/arguments can rarely take place. Both people usually leave resigned to the fact that the other’s mind won’t be changed and there are some fundamental values that are not shared at all levels.
However distasteful those exchanges are they pale in comparison to our present circumstances.
People on both sides have little hesitation to name call and belittle each other. Every therapist can tell you that conflict resolution does not include name calling and belittling. So, right off the bat the odds are stacked against any meaningful discussion.
I had a colleague tell me that her father and mother-in-law were big Trump supporters and she was big time for Clinton. She said she was working hard to accept them and love them anyway and they all were relieved to agree that it was best not to talk politics. Which is often a road people take. Let’s not talk about it is often heard when it comes to politics and other sensitive matters. I had a student tell me that she did not want to know who her peers favored because who they choose might alter how she felt about the person.
Strong feelings all around. Strong feelings do not lend themselves to easy conversations. But that doesn’t mean you ought not to have the conversation. And, it doesn’t mean you should feel anything other than what you feel. Therapists believe feelings are not right or wrong, they are just your instinctual reaction to the world.
What you do with those feelings, how you act on them, is where the judgment comes.
Which means if you are going to have a discussion about a touchy issue you need to bring your A game. You need to prioritize the discussion, you need to be focused and you need to know why you are doing this and what is your end goal. If your goal is to get the other person to change their mind don’t bother. While there is a slight chance you could do that, there is a much greater chance you will just make things worse and more divisive. If you can’t in good conscience have an open mind to have a respectful engaging and enjoyable conversation walk away and talk to someone who holds your own viewpoint and cheer each other on.
If you are going to talk with someone whose beliefs may very well differ from yours consider the goal of understanding. You don’t have to agree. You are welcome to your thoughts, your feelings, your judgments and your own internal monologue. The other person may have an interest in your point of view, but I want to suggest to you that when you engage in a political of other loaded issue you let go of trying to win them over the “right” or “better” way of seeing things. That may or may not come, but don’t lead with that until you have had many other conversations (I said many) where the goal is purely (and I mean purely) for you to understand why they think/believe what they do. Don’t argue with it, don’t point out the inconsistencies, don’t name call or belittle – just focus on trying to really understand what matters to them and why it does matter.
We call this empathy. Trying to see the world from the other’s point of view. The clearer you can be about what is important to someone else and what place their values hold in their life, the more able you will be to see how their point of view makes good sense for them. Not you. Them.
As you can picture the world from their vista you can begin to take the views you have and the ones they have and figure out how you would blend those.
I know there is a good part of you that knows what you think is true and best. And maybe others agree and maybe I do too. But that doesn’t mean they don’t think and feel the same way. While we all like it when people agree with us, we don’t have to diminish those that see things differently. We need to find ways to communicate with each other so that we can find solutions to the challenges we face in the fairest most equitable way. Will we all agree? Of course not. Will there be rifts. Surely. Do we need to belittle and demean? I don’t think so.
As you hold a goal of really trying to understand why the other feels/thinks the way they do, you can conversely explore why you think/feel the way you do. Don’t just take your views for granted. Spend some time reflecting on your own values and how they led you to believe in what guides you. The better able you are to discern the values that guide you and others the more you will be able to work at solutions that encompass the best of the collective views. You can honor your differences with an eye towards greater understanding and appreciation and a world that would hold an equal place for all.