“There are two topics you should never discuss with friends or family: Religion and Politics.”
This was the advice my pops gave me when I was growing up. In fact, he started telling me this at an age when I automatically assumed everyone grew up Catholic and thought that politics was reserved strictly for the POTUS.
But, (as most parental advice comes to pass), his words didn’t really begin to resonate until I moved far, far away from everything I was ever taught and knew to be true. It didn’t really resonate until I experienced living life so closely to other people who grew up with vastly different upbringings. It didn’t resonate until I met other military families.
So I ended up committing to a battle plan where I would always stay neutral, and if a topic came up that became heated, I would attempt to move the conversation toward another subject to ease the tensions.
But here’s the thing: In today’s day and age, there’s no avoiding it. We live in a 24/7 digital world, where opinions are seen and heard so much further than the dinner table or on the 6 o’clock news. I was forced to realize that the tactics I had been molded to employ, while useful, couldn’t be used in every situation. I learned that there would come a time where I’d have to get over the discomfort of these (often) awkward conversations and wade right on in there. There’s no avoiding it sometimes. We now live in an age where avoiding political conversations isn’t always an option because nearly every topic is political fair game.
It’s scary. I don’t want to lose the relationships I’ve worked so hard build over the years. How many friendships, business relationships or even marriages have you seen dissolve over political differences? But on the other hand, my opinion counts too…right? Of course. But the million dollar question remains: “How can we have these conversations without pissing off the WORLD?”
It all starts with US.
EVERYONE is stubborn…yes, even YOU.
The one thing we all have in common is our resistance to change. As humans, we HATE it…as Mil-Fams, we just DEAL with it because change is our only constant.
You absolutely CANNOT walk into a politically charged conversation thinking you’re gonna change the other person’s mind. FORGET IT. According to neurological research, we have a hard enough time changing our OWN minds. Some people have an easier time than others when it comes to being able to accept a difference in opinions, but you can’t bank on that every time. If you go into it thinking you’re going to prove someone wrong or change someone’s view point, you will be sorely disappointed.
Does that mean we’re doomed to be stuck with the same belief structure forever? Of course not! It just means that the conversation will be more productive if you don’t go into it with any intention to sway the other person one way or the next.
Keep an open mind
You don’t have to approve of what they’re saying or believe what they believe, but if you truly want to have a real conversation, you have to understand why they believe what they do.
If you automatically believe that someone is awful because of a belief they have, you are essentially dehumanizing them. You can’t have a conversation with someone when this happens because you’ll end up discounting everything they say without second thought. You have to actually listen to them to get anywhere. Listening to them doesn’t mean you believe or endorse what they’re saying…just that you’re genuinely trying to understand.
Think about it: Could you truly produce an effective argument on a topic if you don’t even understand where the other side is coming from? (hint…the answer is NO.) Sure you’ll get to say your piece, but a conversation is a dialogue….not a monologue.
Go back to school
And I mean WAY back…like, to Kindergarten. I grew up as an only child, so taking turns was a foreign concept to me until I started school. I also learned not to call people names when I was mad and that interrupting someone was rude.
The same rules apply now. We gotta respect the other person we’re talking to by taking turns throughout these conversations. If it starts getting emotionally charged, our first response shouldn’t be to call someone names or discount their beliefs. Give them time to speak their piece and then give YOURSELF time to digest what they’ve said.
Ask Them Questions
Asking questions is the quickest way to disarm your sparring-partner. Don’t believe me? Give it a shot next time. Not only will they feel you’re genuinely interested in their point-of-view, but they’ll begin to mirror the same behavior. That’s when both of you will start connecting the dots between your differing view points.
Bottom line: By asking questions, you’re getting to the root of the actual conversation. In one foul swoop, you’re showing you value your friend by giving them the chance to speak, giving them permission to ask you questions and now they’ll probably actually listen to your answers instead of waiting for their turn to talk.
I know, easier said than done, right? I’m not saying it won’t be difficult, but that’s the point. Conversations involving passion and emotion are some of the most important conversations you’ll ever have. They’ll also be some of the messiest and frustrating too. But in a world where we literally have every opinion on the planet at our fingertips 24/7, it’s difficult not to lose perspective and just mouth-puke all over someone in the heat of the moment.
The best course of action in the heat of that moment is to pull yourself back a bit, take a deep breath, and remember how much you care about the person you’re talking to. If you just can’t seem to do it, it’s ok to take a break from the topic. Just don’t blow up, storming off or walk away muttering obscenities under your breath. Keep your emotions in check as long as you can, because if you don’t, you might just end up making the very best speech you will ever regret.