Why We Should Stop Talking Politics

Bad news

“A healthy democracy requires a decent society; it requires that we are honorable, generous, tolerant and respectful.” ~Charles W. Pickering

The other day I was talking politics with my friend.

We agree on most political things, but even so, I could feel myself getting agitated. Talking politics is like sitting in traffic. Nothing terrible is happening, but it brings out the worst in people.

During the conversation, she said something that should be obvious, but it was an “ah-ha” moment for me. Every person on every side of a political perspective believes they are right. And they don’t understand how the other side can’t see the rightness of their perspective.

But my friend reminded me that one’s political perspective evolves from their life perspective. Of course that is true, and it immediately softened my heart.

Someone who is gay is going to have a different perspective than someone who is straight. Someone who is deeply religious is going to have a different perspective from someone who is not. Someone who was raised one way will have a different perspective from someone raised another way.

We each come to the political table having experienced life differently. That is a fact, a truth that can’t be changed. How then would it be possible for everyone to agree on what or who is best? It isn’t possible. Because what is best for me isn’t necessarily best for you.

We may have beliefs about what is “best for the country,” but even those are shaped by our personal needs and individual perspectives. Yes, there are some universally right and wrong ways of governing, but we still see these through the filter of our perspective. We can’t be talked into or badgered into changing our viewpoint.

Civil Political Discussions?

So why then do we engage in political “discussions” — which are really no more than excuses to try to win someone over to our side? Why do we post rants on Facebook or make vitriolic comments about candidates? Why do we try to make other people feel stupid, shallow, unenlightened, or misguided about their choices?

I have witnessed a few civil political discussions, but a very few. Most of the time, it ends badly. And ultimately we end up judging someone’s overall character by their political persuasion. That is so sad. Because people are mufti-faceted and interesting and have so much more to offer than their political beliefs.

I admit, it is hard to stop talking about it, especially during a political season. You see, I’m talking about it now and maybe it is agitating you. I hope not.

A Respectful Approach

But I think we should make the effort to stop talking and just listen. Really listen to both candidates and what they are saying. Really listen to your own heart and what it is telling you. And if someone insists on talking politics with you, just listen and hear their perspective without lining up your counter-argument. Relax into their perspective and seek out any truth in it for you. Soften your heart to their perspective which is unique to their unique life.

This doesn’t mean you must abandon your beliefs or even your fervor. We have a moral obligation to stand for something, but not at the expense of self-respect.

For most Americans, it feels like there is a lot at stake with this particular election –the state of our economy, our place on the world stage, the hope of a better future for our children. But the day after the election, we will wake up and everything will be exactly the same as it was the day before.

We will have the same relationships. We will be working with the same people. We’ll be exposed to the same connections on Facebook and Twitter. The election will be over, but do we really want to be left with bitterness, divisiveness, and ill-will? Do we really want to look at our friend across the table as our political enemy?

The beautiful thing about this country is that we are free to bring our personal perspectives to the political table and make a choice about what we believe is best. I think that freedom is very, very dear and merits a dignified and civil discourse.

Barring that kind of discourse, it’s best just to maintain dignity and civility. Listen and learn what you can. Soften your heart to the views of others. Contribute to the future of our nation and the world by sowing the seeds of peace and kindness, even as you strive to make the country better with your vote.

What do you think? Please share your comments below.

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Comments

  1. It the thing of ‘I am right and you – from your perspective – are right too!’. Some opinions are so far apart that there’s no real point in ‘getting your right’ because the other one will always have the opposite point of view.
    The trick is to leave it at that and see that further discussion will lead to nothing productive for ‘the other’ or you…

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      You are so right Jan. I don’t think you can talk someone in to your point of view. But I have tried to listen more to other opinions that are rational. There is always something to be learned.

  2. I agree. I have very strong political beliefs, and these conversations never make me feel good (even when I’m speaking with someone who has the same beliefs!). I get such a headache watching debates and political news that I’ve completely stopped. I don’t want to spend my days listening to men in suits bad-mouth each other. I know what I believe in and who I’m voting for, so there’s no reason to talk or watch politics. I’d rather see photos of my friend’s baby or watch a funny movie. :)

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      A funny movie or a baby is much better for your blood pressure Sage! Politics is entertainment just like a train wreck or watching Honey Boo Boo. It makes you cringe but you get hooked. You are smart to tune out for a while!

  3. First I want to point out that we are not a Democracy but a Republic. Next I want to agree with you but also point out something that has been getting worst over time. The media has an agenda and they are diving us in this country. Why is it so wrong to be different and respect each other? It seems today that either your with me or you are not. We need to stop listening to the media machine and anyone that is trying to pit us against each other. We are all Americans and the beauty there is that we are all different. We do not need to divide this country between two parties.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Damian,
      I know we are a Republic, but I couldn’t find any good quotes about Republics! :) I agree that the media has a stake in firing up the divisiveness between people. It has entertainment value and increases ratings. But it doesn’t help people make rational decisions.

  4. A Better Future says:

    Looks like we may have started a debate. The reality is neither party does any good for the people. It’s not about us. Wake up America, there IS no democracy. If you want to make a difference and see REAL change, we need to move to a completely new concept, away from a monetary society. Money IS the root of all our problems. Imagine just for a moment, if you did not have money in the equation. If ALL people were provided for, as in a true democracy. Our most basic needs were met; clothes, food, shelter. Human beings would be creative and compassionate beings if they didn’t have to fight for that almighty dollar! There is hope of something far better for the entire planet. No more separation of people. No more hunger. No more deprivation. Have an open mind and check out the video “Paradise or Oblivion” for a new perspective. It will open your eyes to the real world! http://www.TheVenusProject.com:8080/

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I don’t know if money is the root of all of our problems, but it certainly plays a role. Every individual has a choice about how they want to behave and treat others. Peace begins with each one of us.

  5. I agree with your comment about political conversation causing agitation, and also agree with the statement that people have diverse backgrounds that shape their political beliefs. I disagree, however, with regard to whether we should have political discourse. Exactly for that reason (diverse backgrounds), it is important that we share our views and experiences with others, in a kind and open manner, so that we can reconsider and develop our beliefs. No one should vote in a vacuum. I have very strong opinions and champion certain causes over others, but my views have changed over the 28 years since I first voted, change that I attribute significantly to considering the views of others.
    When it comes to family and close friends I want to keep, however, I employ a “no political discussion whatsoever” policy (especially with my father). : )

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Kat,
      I agree with you — my opinions have shifted over time as well. Maybe it’s just my perception, but it feels as though the political debate has gotten much more vitriolic and divisive over the last few elections. I don’t remember it being this way when I was younger. But the media wasn’t as pervasive then either. I civil discourse would be ideal, I agree. But is it possible? I haven’t seen it in a long time.

  6. Gregory Lease says:

    I had a conversation with a friend a few days ago who was visiting the US from Norway, which has a parliamentary system like so many other democratically governed countries around the world. Another big difference is that it has multiple political parties vying for seats in parliament, and it is a rare thing for any one party to hold an outright majority. This means that for day to day governing, political factions must compromise with each other to form governing coalitions, which tempers party agendas significantly and provides a sense of continuity in governance. Our American two-party system is a badly broken one, devolved to name calling and vilification of the political opposition. And it is a WIN/LOSE, zero sum system when it comes to control of the executive branch, and often the legislative branch (notice how much important legislation has actually made it through the system this last 2 years).

    I, for one, agree with you Barrie, that respect and civility should trump political fervor. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening anytime soon, as money and power are formidable forces driving the competitive system we now have. I think we can affect this, but like so much lasting change, it will be one heart and one mind at a time. So let’s set an example and do the right thing. . . . .and make as many adherents to the “high road” as possible.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Amen to that Gregory! Sometimes I feel that is our only power. We can choose to take the high road. It may not change anything except to give us a sense of self-respect — and maybe influence a few people in our sphere. But that’s OK with me.

  7. This excellent post really resonated with me, Barrie, especially, “why then do we engage in political ‘discussions’ — which are really no more than excuses to try to win someone over to our side?” What an important reminder—even for non-political conversations—that “discussions” are generally more fruitful (and enjoyable) when they’re respectful exchanges, rather than merely an attempt to ram one’s opinions down someone’s throat! It’s OK to talk, listen, agree, disagree, or merely hear and try to understand someone else’s perspective without rusing to judge, condemn or convert them.

    Like Sage, I’ve also gotten headaches from political conversations (or TV shows), even when I agree with the other people! I also agree with Damian’s point that we can respect others’ different perspectives, just as we (hopefully) respect and perhaps even celebrate differences in other areas of life: different ages, genders, races, religions, and backgrounds. This diversity is what makes our country and our world interesting. How boring would it be if we were all exactly the same!

    Thank you all for these wonderful reminders and insights, which I’ll keep with me even past Election Day!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Dan,
      So nice to see you here!! Yes, this should be our goal for all interactions with people who are different from us in some way. Politics is obviously in the forefront right now, and it really seems to bring the worst in our critical and divisive behaviors. Perhaps if more women were candidates . . . :)

  8. Hi Barrie.
    Your post is a very relevant one to me as a Kenyan. Soon we will be holding a very significant election in the history of this country. The points you highlight are already at play here. Politics are dividing people along party lines and more dangerously along tribal lines. This divisiveness has previously plunged the country into senseless violence as it happened in the year 2007-2008. I hope this time round things will be different. Sometimes I wonder whether we really need politics and cunning politicians for running a country effectively.

    Murigi.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Oh dear Murigi, I can’t even imagine how frightening it must be to voice an opinion or go out and vote. Although the political process here is negative and divisive, it rarely gets violent. I sure hope things are different for your country this time too.

  9. Barrie, thanks for this post. It was exactly what I needed. I am so upset with this election; never before have I been so involved in an election outcome. It has made me on edge, angry, and yes, judgmental of those who differ from me. As a woman and a minority, I fear having my rights eroded or taken away. But you are right; we will wake up the day after the election with the same loved ones, friends and coworkers. Those relationships are the most important thing. Thank you for reminding me.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Tammie,
      I am so glad it came to you at the right time. I think all of us feel particularly invested in this election. We are all on edge because of the economy and the unrest around the world. We want someone we can trust to “make all right” for us and our country. But humans are resilient, and we tend to figure things out on our own, in spite of what politicians are doing.

  10. Thank you for sharing. My youngest brother once asked during election season “sis, what do you do about everything that’s going on in the world?” I told him to vote, do the best you can, be the best person you can be and do the right thing. No matter who wins the election, life will go on and all of us will need to accept and adapt.

  11. Barrie, You are right – I believe that if we take the time to truly listen to others, and to understand what is going on in their internal world, it takes us into a place of tolerance. Tolerance is sadly lacking in many political conversations. Coming from a country (South Africa) which has a “rainbow nation”, I am saddened and frustrated by the lack of tolerance and empathy exhibited, not only by our politicians, but by ordinary citizens.

    However, there are people, many people, who do practice tolerance, and I hope that those attitudes will slowly pervade the world around us….

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Kirsten,
      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. It is hard to hear the intolerant comments and the hatred expressed by so many. How do we devolve to that kind of response to each other? In some ways, people must feel deeply threatened and afraid. Yes, practicing tolerance might show people another way to respond and slowly begin shifting attitudes.

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