It’s that time of year again when politics play a more prominent role in conversations, and strong lines of division are drawn. (Recently it seems as though it is always that time of year.) People who ordinarily seem agreeable suddenly are not. You dread interactions with certain family members or friends because you know the conversations will somehow become uncomfortable.
If I may be so bold, I would like to suggest a few new approaches to these interactions that will ideally make them more bearable and even enjoyable. First, come with the view that all people have come to their opinions honestly. This means that something in their past, their life experiences, or belief systems helped form their views, which may be different from yours. Most people who have different views from you are not idiots, contrary to how it may seem. They have had a different walk and may have different values, and they are entitled to them.
Second, try to see things from their viewpoints. Try to understand how they came to believe the way they do or support the candidates that they support. I would even go so far as to suggest viewing the news services they use or visit the websites they do to understand their view from a different orientation. This is critical in developing an understanding, and a great way to avoid the validation of living in your own “echo chamber” of thoughts and ideas. There is a behavioral miscue, named Confirmation Bias, of which we are all guilty. Confirmation Bias is the situation where you only expose yourself to media that confirm what you already believe. I fear that many of us are stuck in this rut. It prevents us from having an honest discourse, and it promotes the idea of regurgitating the talking points from our own side.
My third approach is a technique I have employed relatively successfully since the 2008 election cycle. (This may be the only original idea that I have come up with as it relates to this topic.) Before having any discourse on a candidate or an issue that could possibly be divisive, use this little test: Ask the person you are talking with to say one critical thing about his candidate/issue and one positive thing about your candidate. This is gold. I have prevented wasting my time with an idiot on a number of occasions. Essentially I turned on my heels and left the discussion or changed the subject to something benign and palatable, like the weather or sports. People that fail at this test have already closed their minds, and they are locked tight. You will never penetrate their tiny minds, and you will become increasingly frustrated by trying. Please turn on your heels and have the argument with the nearest wall because it may just be the only thing that salvages this relationship.
Fourth, please avoid social media as a way of communicating your ideas or challenging the ideas of others. I have never seen, nor will I likely ever see, someone become converted on social media. No one has ever posted, “Gee your picture, inflammatory meme, or snarky comment has convinced me that I am wrong. Thank you so much for helping me to become enlightened. I appreciate your help and concern.” It’s not going to happen, so then what is the point? I mean, seriously, what is the point? I have watched friends become unfriends (and not just on social media, I mean in real life). Of course you can operate on the delusion that your views and opinions are more valuable than the relationships that you have spent a lifetime building.
I love the people in my life and value the differences that they represent. I like that I have a diverse group of friends who represent varying ideas and life experiences. I see my relationships individually, and each as a unique thread in a great big tapestry that is my life. The brilliant colors and different textures make the tapestry beautiful. Imagine a tapestry in which every thread is exactly the same, the same color and texture. Not very interesting, is it? Here’s to the tapestry of your life. May it be varied and beautiful and something of which you can be proud.