For many of us, politics belong on that list of topics – along with sex and religion – that you don’t talk about in polite company. I’ve had a few conversations that particularly underscore the wisdom of this old adage.
Without naming names, let’s just say I support the minority political party in my and my husband’s family. On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself defending the actions of my entire party, which, let’s be honest, isn’t fun. There’s also the time I discussed the Left’s so-called “radical homosexual agenda” with a group of our friends. I’ll never live that one down.
When you work in politics, you become a lightning rod for political conversation. I learned this in a very painful way, when a group of my coworkers hosted an engagement party for my husband and me. Everything was lovely until my future mother-in-law cornered my congressman boss to grill him on the economy.
But my boss’ agile response to my mother-in-law and my own experiences made me reconsider my position on talking about politics with the people we talk to every day – our friends, our kids’ friends, our family members, and our colleagues. These folks have opinions, voices, and votes.
Politics and our responses to controversial current events quite literally shape our country’s future. Whether it’s the economy or reproductive freedom or education policy or access to health care, these are issues that decide elections – and, more importantly, impact lives. How can I be responsible citizen if I bury my head in the sand and refuse to talk about issues that matter?
Today, that discussion is probably more important than ever. With a staggering number of news options available to people online, in print, and on TV, people are often selecting news sources that reinforce their own beliefs, rather than challenging or educating them. That practice makes it too easy to ignore or discount dissenting ideas or additional facts. And it is no good for democracy.
That deluge of news also has people placing a premium on the advice and expertise of real people, especially friends. Just think about the reviews on Amazon. Face-to-face conversations about politics and online posts from a friend about issues can often carry more weight and get more attention than traditional news sources.
And, yes, posting on Facebook and other social media is an important form of political discussion. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of adults use Facebook, and half of those get news there — translating to 30 percent of the general population.
Truthfully, it is still often uncomfortable for me to evangelize about politics, but I believe that it’s important to share information, to discuss issues, and to find common ground. That is the foundation of our democracy, and the hope for our progress.
Here are my top 7 tips for safely navigating political discussion:
- Listen to others’ viewpoints.
- Be respectful. Nothing’s worse than a post or a discussion that devolves into name-calling.
- Use facts. Share your personal experiences but back it up with research.
- Pick issues you care about. You don’t need to be a fountain of knowledge for every issue that hits the fan.
- Don’t “un-friend” people (online or in real life) who have different views.
- It’s okay to agree to disagree. Especially if you have someone who is just itching for a protracted fight.
- Stay away from raging partisanship or ideology.
So, go out there and share your views with the world – it’s important. You can start by sharing this post on Facebook and Twitter.
Sara Lang has worked in North Carolina politics at the state, federal, and local levels for more than 15 years. A communications consultant, she lives in Cary with her husband, two young children, and a pampered dog.