How long has it been since you talked to someone with an opposing political viewpoint on social media and left the conversation feeling that the time you spent was meaningful? Do you even read the comments on Facebook anymore? When was the last time you felt good talking about politics?
Politics has always been a sensitive subject to many. The bad blood between democrats, republicans, and everyone else spills over into our everyday lives and poisons well-meaning and constructive discussion. Discourse often gets heated and angry, and passions explode like a match dropped in a pool of gasoline.
But, political conversations can be productive — we’ve all had moments where we leave a confrontation feeling like we accomplished something. We long for those situations where a polite tone of voice wins over an opponent, and we make constructive progress toward the goal of better understanding.
It may not be realistic to hope that all conversations are polite and calm, but is there a way to have a conversation without resorting to half-truths and insults?
“You snowflakes are always trying to take away our guns!” She could feel the mood of the thread go from bad to worse.
“No, we don’t want to take away all your guns, but is it necessary that we live in a society where it’s easier to get an AR-15 or an AK-47 than it is to buy a six-pack of beer?” She had this conversation so many times in the past, and she knew where it always goes. She tried to be non-judgemental but could tell that he was only looking for a fight.
“You democrats always try to regulate, but it never works! It’s our second amendment right to own any kind of gun we want! Guns don’t kill people — people kill people!”
“Where in the Second Amendment does it suggest that semi-automatic weapons with 100-round magazines should be used in a well-regulated militia? Weren’t they using muskets when this was written?” She had made this point many different times with many different people and they always repeated the standard NRA talking points. She knew he would be no different, but had to try anyway.
“F*@K you and your socialist propaganda! Trump 2020! MAGA!”
She felt it necessary to end the conversation there because there would be no progress on this day.
“There is almost no polite dialog anymore, just haranguing.” — Peter Sealy
How To Take Part in a Worthwhile Political Discourse (in theory)
As a way to cut through the well-meaning noise littering the internet and social media, we should have a simple way — or an uncomplicated set of rules to follow — for having a political discussion. So much of the content we absorb these days is needlessly convoluted, and we shouldn’t attempt to make this process any harder than it should be.
1.) Be Polite
It almost sounds too easy, but being polite is the best first step we can take when we start a political conversation. In a paper for the Munich Personal RePEc Archive, Ruxandra Boicu states:
“In political discourse, politeness is strategically used to substantiate the general objective of legitimizing the political speaker and discrediting her/his opponents. Language is put in the service of ideology, it is a vehicle for power relations.”
Start the conversation by being polite and end the same way. It only takes a small amount of effort to control our animalistic instinct to attack and destroy the person on the other side of the argument.
2.) State Beliefs as a Matter of Conscience
It’s important that we frame our beliefs as coming from our conscience and not just repeating what a talking head said on the news. The other person must know we are passionate about our statements and they should respect how we feel.
3.) Allow Others to Have Conscientious Beliefs
If we want respect, we have to give respect in return. Respect is always a two-way street. We can’t expect the other person to take us seriously if we come into a conversation thinking they are automatically wrong and lacking intelligence.
Try starting a conversation like this:
“It’s gratifying to me that you care about this country, and you are passionate about your beliefs. We see things from a different side, and our views are as important to us as yours are to you. We could argue and name-call, but we both would only frustrate each other, and the conversation would go nowhere. Instead of being petty, we could try taking turns just listening to each other with an open mind, asking questions to understand where each other is coming from. How does that sound?”
4.) Never Make It Personal
When we start tossing out terms like snowflake and saying “Okay, Boomer!” every time they try to make a point, the conversation will stall, and we will lose all the progress we have made. Never resort to name-calling.
Remember: keep it polite.
5.) Never Lose Your Temper
How many comments have you begun to write when you are already angry and ready to show the other person a thing or two? No matter how bad the discussion is going, you should never, ever respond in anger, even if it’s justified. Do you really think giving them a good chewing out is going to change their minds and make them change their opinion?
Again, be polite.
6.) Search for Common Ground
When people care very much about something, even if they disagree on how to solve the problem, there is bound to be some agreement. Work hard to find the commonalities, and use them to steer the discourse into a more productive place.
7.) Get Agreement!
Try to agree that you both want what’s best for your country — you just disagree on how to get it done. Inside we all want to belong and feel as though the things we are passionate about are important to other people as well. There is always the exception, but few people thrive on confrontation. Not everyone you meet on the other side of the aisle will be a troll, and the sooner we try to agree, the sooner we can find solutions for these problems.
Remember a simpler time — before the internet and social media — where one could sit and have a politically-charged conversation without resorting to name-calling and anger. There will always be disagreements, but the way we approach them is key to figuring out how to fix the issues that revolve around us today.
More than ever, the world needs people united in figuring out ways to solve the problems that plague us all.