There have been far too many rather monumental happenings in politics as of late – both domestically and internationally – to successfully ignore it. I happen to be a closet aspiring congresswoman (not really, but sort of), so I rather enjoy keeping up on it all, but what I don’t enjoy is the division it causes – not only among strangers across the country, but among friends. It’s times like these, when our government stands at such odds within itself that it literally has to shut down (well, partially), that political conversations are sort of hard to avoid.
I was visiting Boston the day the government “shut down”. I knew it was coming, as much as I didn’t want it to, but I was on vacation and blissfully tried to ignore it and enjoy my trip. And then the national parks shut down and some of my most anticipated adventures got cancelled. Thankfully there are endless state-run sites in Boston that were still open, so there wasn’t a minute wasted, but the shut down stirred the pot, once again, among people who I love and respect, pitting them against each other. Putting me in a category marked “Enemy” by some of them.
It has always bothered me how kindness and respect and tolerance and love so quickly fly out the proverbial window when it comes to political discord. Things all of a sudden become so conspiratorial, sensationalized and sinister. We get lumped into the generalized categories that stereotype our political leanings and we get accused of things we never said, did, or meant.
All this to say, wouldn’t it be nice if we could have an actual conversation with someone we disagreed with and come out feeling like we didn’t have each other by the throat? Or better yet, feeling like we were better friends than when we started? It’s possible. Believe me.
Here are my two (or seven) cents on ways to have a successful political conversation with someone you disagree with:
- Establish common ground first. For most of our readers, this will most likely be Christ. If you are conversing with another fellow Christian, then everything else, in the end, is trivial. Even if this is not discussed, it’s important to keep in mind. If the person opposite you is not a Christian, keep in mind that they ought not be held to Christian principles. Find something else you have in common: You both like dogs. You both raise support for breast cancer. You have a mutual affection for people who use their turning signals while driving. SOMETHING.
- Keep a sense of humor. So what if you disagree? Laugh about the stereotypes and the actual crazies that are espoused with whatever side you most identify with. Because, really, they are funny. And unless you find yourself in the same margin with the crazies, you should think they’re funny (in the utterly ridiculous sense), too.
- Assume the best. This really can’t hurt in most cases, right? Start out with the assumption that they don’t actually hate rich people, that they aren’t actually racist, that they do care about rights for women and don’t abuse government assistance. Because chances are, they aren’t evil like these stereotypes suggest. And there are far more noble reasons for their stances than we allow ourselves to believe.
- Ask questions. Listen to their answers. The point of this will not be to grill them into talking points, but to hear their heart and discover what they actually BELIEVE. Often I find that we believe very similar things, we just want to accomplish them in different ways.
- Understand where they are coming from. Even if you disagree, it’s unlikely that their perspective is entirely unfounded, especially if half the country tends to feel similarly. Verbalize and validate how they feel. That’s just basic practice in how to have a healthy argument.
- Be open to the idea that you might be wrong. (Who, YOU? Wrong? NEVER!) This doesn’t mean you should second guess everything you believe and be swayed by every person who thinks differently than you do. Absolutely not. But sometimes we don’t have it all figured out. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that. In fact, that’s a trait of maturity.
- Your objective is not to win the fight (in this particular conversation; this is not to say some issues are not worth fighting for). This is not a boxing ring. We don’t want the person sitting across from us, created by God, ending in a bloody heap in the corner when we’re done with them. If your aim is to be the one who was most persuasive, you are probably less interested in the person and more interested in your pride.
These are just a few pointers. I’m sure you have more! Please share them. Let’s learn how to engage in healthy political debate among friends.