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By Joshua Hoke
With the political debates just behind us, many of us can’t help but have a political discussion, though many times we wish we hadn’t.
I can think of plenty of examples of conversations I’ve had that have quickly gone sideways and turned into a festival of insults.
But as I’ve gotten older (perhaps not wiser, just more careful) I’ve realized one very important thing: political discussions will affect your friendships and potentially burn bridges.
They also reflect, in many ways, who you are as a person.
Do you value other people and their opinions? Or do you just want to be right?
With this in mind, I want to give a few ways in which you can tread the minefield of political discourse without alienating anyone who doesn’t see it your way.
And potentially give you the ability to be more persuasive if you happen to be arguing with someone who may ardently say what they’ve heard but not necessarily believe it wholesale.
Bear in mind that our two-party system often gives only two sides of an issue with many people being moderates or libertarians or authoritarian or, of course, far-left liberal or far-right conservative.
Thus much of the debate in the news is between the mainstream Democratic ideals and mainstream Republican ideals.
This means that most people are falling somewhere along the lines that “agree” with these ideas but not necessarily will reflect all of the other persons’ ideals.
So don’t walk into any discussion thinking that you know what someone believes — articulate the talking points that are on the table and argue those.
Or more simply, don’t presume a democrat is also an economic liberal, and don’t presume a Republican is an economic conservative.
If you don’t take anything else out of this, please take away this: never forget your own fallibility.
We as humans just are not particularly objective, objectively speaking.
Truth is a difficult thing to lasso down and present in a light that is unassailably true.
Philosophers have argued about that before there was even an established philosophy for truth, which arguably isn’t fully established.
So be pragmatic and try to understand why you believe what you believe and then in turn why another person believes what they believe.
Then engage the difference of opinion just as that — an opinion.
Realize that while you may see things in a dichotomous fashion right now, you’re human and thus your beliefs are dynamic. They will change over time.
So don’t alienate a friend over a belief that just might change.
Present what you believe in terms that don’t challenge someone who may disagree. For example: “If you don’t vote this way, you’re an idiot.” Or any version of this.
If there is a dissenting opinion, the other individual has to acknowledge that they are an idiot and then disagree.
It won’t foster change in someone who disagrees with you and it’s just outright disrespectful.
Use terms that are not absolute or normative.
Don’t say sweeping generalizations (liberals are always hypocrites, conservatives are always dumb) or anything that goes along these lines. “Always,” “never,” “should,” “shouldn’t”: these terms are best left alone.
One good reason is if the other person finds one exception, even if your point was strong, it’ll take all the air out of it with one exception.
A great example of this was when Romney said Obama NEVER called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
He did, and all the wind was out of the sails on the broader point that he was making on the president’s handling of the situation.
Political discussions are not about you being right.
For one, you are one vote among many.
The stakes aren’t really that high even if you really, really believe you’re right.
And you are never going to berate someone into believing what you believe.
People respond to good ideas, not pithy jabs at their ideologies.
Abusing your opponent doesn’t make you more right.
If that were the case, pundits would’ve convinced us all that they’re right.
Beyond anything else, if you’ve maintained respect and a conversation is careening out of control, exit it.
Yelling and heated emotions shut down your capacity to reason — read anything from John Gottman on relationships and you can take that away.
It’s OK to be angry, but it’s not OK to allow it to escalate beyond that.
So tactfully say that the conversation isn’t moving in a positive direction and move on with your life.
Political conversations are a great opportunity for you to parse out your own political beliefs and give you a foundation that you’ve explored thoughtfully to base your political behavior.
Even if your opinions radically diverge, stay polite, stay calm and when it’s all over, tell the person it was good talking to them.
I know we can all get a little crazy over politics, but at the end of the elections we are going to have one president, and no amount of you not liking that candidate will change that.
Value dissenting opinions and let discourse sharpen your own beliefs.
If you can only respect opinions that complement your own, your existence will stay unquestioned and you’ll just be an echo chamber of your own ideas, which likely (since you’re the only one contributing to them) won’t be all that great anyhow.
Joshua Hoke is a political science junior. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.