Keep Your Friends: Six Tips for Talking Politics Without a Fight
It's campaign season again in America, that wonderful time when the people with whom you get along three out of every four years suddenly chafe you raw with their dinner conversation, their retweets and their Facebook status updates. I myself am among the annoying: I fly my liberal flag pretty much all the time, but I get worse when the rest of the country starts talking issues, too. And I really don't want to lose my friends over our differences of opinion. (Even though I'm right and they're wrong.)
While many of my friends share my worldview, not all of them do. And -- I'm sure you've all had this happen as you've increasingly met more people through blogging and social media -- we're now confronted on a daily basis with hundreds or even thousands more people than we could ever see moving through our daily lives in the physical world. More opportunities to connect ... and more opportunities to disagree.
The most interesting thing about this 2012 campaign season to me is the laserbeam attention of the all-male candidate line-up on women's reproductive health. There was the Santorum supporter who wanted the ladies to use aspirin between the knees as birth control. There was the Planned Parenthood defunding and the resulting backlash. Rush Limbaugh called student and contraception coverage mandate supporter Sandra Fluke a slut on the air and female bloggers wondered if there was a war on women in this campaign season or if Rush is just one blowhard who does not a RNC make.
When politics focus on women's reproductive health, it's even harder for me to talk to women with an opposite viewpoint. (I've never had an abortion because I've always been a fiend about birth control -- sometimes using two methods at the same time -- but I believe it should be a safe, legal option for women.) It's going to be nearly impossible for me to discuss abortion or birth control with someone who is adamently opposed to either without needing to resort to my rules for civil discourse and hugging it out at the end of the day.
How to Discuss Politics with Respect Even When You Know You're Right
Tip one: Listen all the way without thinking about what you're going to say next while the other person is talking.
I'm horrible at this. (These rules are for me, too.) I'm a really bad interrupter. I'm not sure if I've always been an interrupter or if I developed it during my stint in super corporate America when the only way to get a word in edgewise with certain groups was to just talk when a space opened in the conversation. It's hard for me to not interrupt, and if I'm interrupted while I'm talking, it's hard for me to not interrupt BACK to finish my sentence (and then be accused of interrupting, oh, the injustice). My best advice: Write down what you want to say (just a phrase so you don't forget) and then sit back and listen. In many cases, the other person will acknowledge your point before you make it, and that can go a long way toward helping the two of you see you're not entirely misaligned on every point in the universe.
It's also much easier to not do the virtual version of interrupting if you read every word before starting your comment. It is so tempting to just flip down to the comments section halfway through the post. Always, always a bad idea. Also, do try to read all the other comments, because someone else may have already made your point and then you just look dumb if you make it again three comments later.
Tip two: Acknowledge the relationship whenever things get hot.
Conversations ebb and flow, and if it gets too hot, it's totally fine to back away from the discussion with a simple "We've been friends for eight years, and I don't want to say anything I can't take back because I feel really passionate about this. Let's talk about something else." In the online world, you can always close the window and just walk away. It's hard, but you can. Call a like-minded friend and get it all out instead of taking it public.
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