The 2008 presidential election is still many months away, and yet the campaign seems to be in full swing already. Clearly, the next couple years promise to be a true political circus in America. Candidates left and right are touting their originality, leadership credentials and the vision of their respective parties.
The next two years should also be a time for all us lowly plebeians to flex our political muscle and make our voices heard. Political dialogue is crucial to the health of our democracy, so we should embrace, rather than shun, the conversations and debates we share with friends and loved ones. In this day and age, though political differences seem to be at a high water mark, our courage to engage in political dialogue seems to have dwindled to a level of meekness that does us all a disservice. There are ways to discuss politics without the conversation dissolving into petty, mean-spirited bickering.
- Gain the knowledge to talk politics. The first step for participating in good political conversation is to be informed. When we discuss politics without actually knowing what we're talking about, we run the risk of irritating people and even possibly misinforming others. Entire campaigns of misinformation exist nowadays, and they don't need our help to spread falsehood and hyperbole. We owe it to ourselves and our nation to keep informed and knowledgeable of the politics in our country. That's the only way we can responsibly discuss politics. So don't rely on just one news source. Question all of them. Be voracious in your pursuit of political knowledge.
- Civility. Armed with current knowledge of politics, political debates can rage and rapidly spiral downward into a mess of anger and bitterness that, once expressed, is sometimes hard to forget. The potential for hurt feelings and "making a scene" is why many people accept the old rule that politics is a taboo subject in social settings. But whether you're talking to your family at the dinner table or to a fellow guest at a social function, there's no reason why you shouldn't engage in political discourse. In fact, as citizens, we enrich one another and gain deeper understanding by talking politics. The key is to do it with civility and respect for all involved. No matter how passionately we disagree, it's important to keep the debate civil and friendly, always closer to laughter than to yelling and tears.
- Don't raise your voice.
- Don't interrupt; respect others enough that you let them speak.
- Don't be arrogant; remember that there are multiple sides to every political issue.
- Don't get personal. The discussion should never veer into the personal realm. If you're talking with a wealthier person about tax cuts for the wealthy, for example, bringing up that person's wealth doesn't strengthen any political argument you have. It can potentially cause hurt feelings and ugliness.
Political vitriol often results from our tendencies to identify so strongly with certain political positions that we automatically respond to political disagreement as an attack on us personally. We must resist that deluded impulse.
- Kids hate condescension. If you're trying to engage your children in conversation to encourage an interest in politics, avoid being condescending. If you treat your children like political ignoramuses, they'll probably never want to discuss politics again, and might not ever make a strong effort to gain knowledge of our nation's politics.
- Kids also dislike argument. Don't let political discussions with your spouse turn into arguments. Your kids will gradually associate politics with yelling and bad feelings. Don't let that happen; they have their entire adult lives to form those negative associations!
- The final reason to be well-behaved? You usually win. Nobody likes to witness someone decompensate over politics. You stand to gain ground if you are as polite and civil as possible. Not that "winning" a political debate is compelling to you or anything....
"Polite" and "politics" share so many consecutive letters, yet the two remain far too divergent in all other respects. They don't have to be mutually exclusive. We should all talk politics, and often, but should remember to do so with civility and respect.