I love this country.
I love what the Constitution stands for – and that I can express my frustration with the electoral college loudly via the First Amendment. I love how different every state is, and the pride each American has in their hometowns.
I love this country in spite of the dark moments in our history. Slavery and our treatment of Native Americans are black spots that we will never be able to erase and we should never cover up. Doing better is all we can do to atone for our mistakes, just as every other nation out there.
Because each one has made mistakes.
I love that every American has their right to an opinion – and every one that I’ve met has a strong one.
For as much as I love about the United States of America, there’s quite a bit that I loathe.
I loathe misguided interpretations of the Constitution – and how it manifests in laws that affect millions of Americans. I hate that the clear line between church has state has become blurred, to the detriment of women, children, the LGBT communities, and immigrants. I hate gerrymandering – A LOT.
These are my opinions. Yours might be the polar opposite – and that’s good.
In fact, that’s what makes America great.
Stating the obvious here – we live in a highly polarized time. News is no longer unbiased, but delivered in the medium and slant that we want to hear. We mute digital statements from people who feel differently than we do. We stop talking to certain family members and friends because they voted for the other person.
‘How we got here’ is its own blog post (or book, frankly). ‘What do we do about it?’ is what I’m going to try and answer.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a nasty woman or a member of the Trump train, a Bernie Bro or a Green Party member. What connects us first and foremost is being American.
And as Americans, we should be able to have these conversations.
This is the most important thing you can do – just listen.
After the election, I recognized just how little I listened to people whose views were different than my own. I vowed to do better. And I’m trying.
It hasn’t gotten easier, but it has made me research the facts a lot more before making my own opinion.
The best way to enforce this rule is something my friend DJ did with his dad. Each person has a fixed amount of time to talk, and the other person should just listen.
Again – sounds easy. In reality, it’s hard. The next tip helps you stick to it.
2. Focus your conversation on policy and outcomes, not politicians
I’ve been careful to keep political discussions on policy, and specifically outcomes. The outcomes I want are affordable health care (including dental, vision, and mental health), national gun ownership laws that are enforced (if we were to enforce New York’s laws nationwide, I’d be happy), fewer abortions (and funding the programs that directly correlate to that), and equal pay for equal work.
These are the outcomes that my conservative friends want. They just have different views on how to get there.
But agreeing on even one outcome – infrastructure, manufacturing and job creation, domestic energy – is a place we can start.
Find your common ground, and start listening. Try to limit your talk about specific politicians and their beliefs. There is a big difference between what someone says and what can actually become a law, and it can derail an otherwise civil conversation. This conversation isn’t about what your senator believes or what the President tweeted – it’s about what you and your friend believe. Try to stay focused on that.
3. Know that you’re not going to change anyone’s mind
How would you like it if someone forced you to agree with them unilaterally?
It would suck. So why do the same to someone else?
The point of these conversations isn’t about being the most right – it’s about learning from one another.
So check your ego at the door, and expect to respectfully disagree on a lot of things. If you want to pivot to a new topic or change the subject, use one of my favorite phrases:
- “Well, I think we’ve exhausted this topic. How do you feel about…”
- “Let’s agree to disagree, given that we’ve discussed this as much as we possibly can.”
- “While I don’t agree with you, I respect your opinion.”
We get so hung up on being right that we forget to be human – kind, respectful, compassionate. You can completely disagree with someone and still be a decent person towards them.
If there’s just no reasoning with someone personally, don’t bother. Just…
4. Walk away
I avoid these conversations with certain people because there it’s completely pointless. There are some people I love who just cannot have an open, rational conversation about politics.
There’s one simple answer to this – I just don’t talk about it.
The Righteous Mind breaks this down aptly, but it comes down to a simple tenet of moral psychology. We try to use reasoning to justify our emotions. Some people are able to separate their emotions and personal views to what’s best for a group at large, and others aren’t.
If there’s no opportunity to have a true dialogue, I save my time and breath and leave the conversations to lighter topics. I also find myself drifting apart from these people.
It takes me back to the saying that ‘friends are for a reason, season, or lifetime.’ There’s nothing sadder than discovering when a forever friend turns out to be a reason or a season one, but it opens your heart and circle to someone new – someone who can help you grow as much as you can help them.
Or maybe your relationship has so much more than politics, and it’s a topic you can wholly avoid. Only you know this, so do what’s best for you.
Politics IS personal. There are certain laws and executive orders that will affect you personally, or hurt someone close to you.
But what makes us a good person is being respectful and compassionate, and treating others like you want to be treated.
There is no exception for people who feel differently than you do about politics. That said, speaking to people with opposite views isn’t normalizing or accepting their behavior. You can have a conversation with a nasty woman, a Bernie Bro, a MAGAer, or a libertarian and leave with your views and beliefs intact, but with a wider perspective and potentially some new facts.
Not talking to them keeps your views and your view limited to yourself and the things you read and listen to.
But I hope you can start with one conversation, with one other person, and just take the time to understand a view that’s different from your own.
You may be surprised at just how much you learn.
Here are some other great reads to help:
- My dad voted for Trump. I did not. Yet we spoke about Trump and politics for nearly 3 hours (and learned a few things).
- How to talk politics without getting into a fight
- The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion
- A flowchat to determine if you’re having a rational conversation
- How to talk about politics constructively
Equally important – how to easily contact your elected representatives, and how to get involved without running for office.
If you’re moved by this post, I would be so appreciative if you shared it with your friends, family, and random Internet followers. Thank you for keeping an open mind in reading this – I hope it helps you start some conversations that I’ve personally benefitted from since November. And if you want to know how I personally feel about policy and government, follow me on Twitter. I don’t hold back.