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The Greyhound

Etiquette: How to talk about politics

Ah, politics. The one topic of conversation that’s practically guaranteed to get everyone around you to despise you, regardless of affiliation. In fact, the amount that people hate talking about politics might be the one thing that could truly unite us all, Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, correct and woefully, ridiculously wrong.

No matter your affiliations, issues of politics are almost invariably deeply personal, which, when you get right down to it, can seem a little weird. Our profound connection to political topics speaks both to our selfishness (“You can’t do this to me!”) and to our sociability and generosity (“You can’t do this to them!”). Because of all this emotional turmoil, the fact is, no matter what you believe, you’re probably all talking about it wrong. There is, however, a productive, thoughtful way to have these kinds of discussions, and, as always, I’m here to help.

Please Shut Up Sometimes. No, please actually be quiet.

The easiest way to get unfriended on Facebook or at least blocked from my news feed? Post constant political opinions, links, news stories, etc. It doesn’t matter what it is; I might even agree with you on every single point you’re making. But—and this may come as a shock to some of you—I don’t come to Facebook to read about your political beliefs, or about how YOU and only YOU have the BEST idea for healthcare that would ACTUALLY WORK. (Political status updaters also seem to have a skewed idea of what the caps lock button is for.) I come to Facebook for baby animal videos and study abroad photos. Please don’t ruin this for me.

You also might think that constantly bringing up politics makes you sound smart and informed. It doesn’t. Though you may very well be smart and informed, it just makes you sound like someone who is constantly bringing people down at parties. Keep in mind that there is a time and a place to talk politics, and that it’s not “all the time, everywhere.” Oh, and speaking of being informed…

Do Your Research

There is literally no excuse for this. You have Google in your pocket, right now. I cannot emphasize enough just how easy it is to get basic facts on pretty much any topic. A simple list of facts about the issues you want to discuss is the absolute bare minimum required if you’re going to have a conversation.

Those bare facts aren’t enough, however. You learn if you do any debating that you need to be armed with facts from all sides, including those that are detrimental to your own argument. Case in point: two news stories about Obamacare. The first about a diehard Arkansas Republican who discovered he could save hundreds of dollars per month buying health insurance from the exchange. The second about a California woman who makes just too much money to qualify for health care tax credits, and will be required under the law to buy a much more expensive plan. If you wanted to have any kind of civilized, productive discussion about the Affordable Care Act, you would need to contend with both of these stories, regardless of what side of the debate you’re on or how loud you can yell. Facts don’t care about your opinion, no matter what cable news tries to tell you.

Remember Why We’re Doing This

Despite partisan fighting that would make even squabbling adolescent siblings say “Woah, calm down,” I’m still pretty thankful we don’t have a multiparty system. Why? Because then there’s a camp for all the whackjobs who think it’s the government’s job to shell out for their every weird whim. Go ahead and look up how many strictly beer-related political parties there have been in the world. There are far more than there should be (and, really, there should be zero).

The point is, a two-party system is supposed to appeal to broad sets of ideologies, remain inclusive, and—here’s the kicker—come up with better ideas than any one group could alone. If your idea can’t hold up under scrutiny, or evolve under new circumstances, or absorb other good ideas from the opposite side of the debate, then guess what? Your idea was terrible all along.

We don’t (or we shouldn’t) debate politics in order to make the people we’re debating with and everyone within a five block radius angry and depressed. We do it with the hope that competing ideas will give rise to the best possible solution for everyone, and that involves making concessions to people you might want to hate, and that’s scary. But being a grown-up is constantly scary. Deal with it. If you’re trying to plow through anyone who might ever disagree with you, might I suggest crawling under your bed and plugging your ears for the next millennium or two. That’s a much better way to make friends.

 

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Etiquette: How to talk about politics