A Word About Polite Discussion

I intend to throw absolutely no shade with this post. My intent is to convey my thoughts, imperfectly and in a biased subjective manner….

When I see or hear “I remember when it was impolite to talk politics,” I almost always know deep in my bones that a well-off person is the one saying it, if only because people who are happy with their lot don’t want to hear a contrary opinion. As for the “I remember when” argument, many people remember when women didn’t have the right to vote or when some people were openly treated as lesser human beings. Pointing to the past isn’t a strong way to make one’s point.

Also, one of my favorite axes to grind is this: people rush to label topics as politics, sometimes casting the net so wide so as to include everything: birth control, religion, sexuality, education, healthcare, and just about anything else. In so doing, they attempt to skew or control the conversation. This is especially true when their own arguments aren’t defensible. Limiting the playing field to weaker points of view helps them to maintain their comfort level at the expense of someone else.

If a topic is important to you, discuss it, even when the comfort level of those listening isn’t immediately receptive. If you speak from an honest place, no one who loves you or appreciates your opinion is going to silence you -and if silence is demanded without reciprocal silence from the person objecting, you’ve been shown that your place is not one of mutual respect. Conversations don’t occur in a vacuum; people must choose to engage and to continue to respond for them to survive even a few moments.

I, of course, wouldn’t visit family or friends and insist on a specific topic of conversation, and probably wouldn’t even start it myself. But once broached, I would be less inclined to favorably respond to someone intervening with “Let’s avoid politics.”

Small talk is the glue which binds us socially, but it is the discussion of weightier issues which allows us to know one another. In the context of a group, the dynamic alters the content of what’s being said. Societal expectations change and with those changes comes a looser grasp on the fabric of what we talk about.

It is rarely the topic per se which ignites an argument or dispute. Rather, it is a person’s poor communication skills and their lack of tools with which to confront reasonable ways to interact with opposing or even repugnant ideas. So often, people make the mistake of equating disagreement with something to avoid at all costs. We are a world of billions of people. Disagreement is mandatory, even with those people who are closest to you.

No one should expect you to participate in a discussion if you aren’t comfortable. Most of us also won’t force a continued conversation if everyone isn’t participating. In those cases where it happens, though, please leave your privilege aside and instead of silencing the topic, step away and let those who are interested engage in a spirited discussion. Not all windmills call out your name.

Taking the argument to social media makes the issue even less troubling. Since each of us only has to scroll past to avoid discussions we don’t like, it is the ideal method to toss around political ideas. No one can be forced to engage, and each person can participate at the level they feel comfortable doing so. You have time to consider your responses and even double-check the content before you participate.

To be clear, though, much of the objection to politics (whatever that might be defined to be), is really just a disguised attempt to make some people feel comfortable. Many people despise the democracy of social media, as it puts others in a position to ‘see’ information and content they object to. People tend to walk and talk inside their own comfort zones. When exposed to other politics, religions, and culture, their defense mechanisms kick into gear and push them to look away.

Our conversations reflect what we are exposed to. Politics is simply a huge part of that. Politics isn’t the problem. It’s us, as we struggle to come to terms with both talking and listening.

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