NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Can two otherwise friendly Americans talk politics without driving each other crazy?
We’ll leave the election issue where it belongs – with the voters on Nov. 6. But as for discussing politics, there’s no need to lose a friend or family member over barbed talk of favored candidates, policies, and parties.
Unfortunately, that is already happening. The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project says 18% of Facebook users have “unfriended” someone over partisan political bickering.
Americans try to put a lid on simmering political talk – Pew says 66% of Facebook users simply ignore political posts – but it’s not always easy.
Fortunately, help is on the way.
A Wake Forest University divinity professor says Americans can curb political squabbles by taking a page out of a “surprising” playbook: organized religion.
Michelle Voss Roberts, a professor at Wake Forest’s School of Divinity, admits that religion, while being another “divisive topic,” can be comfortable, even civil discussion, and so can otherwise sharp-tongued talk of political affairs.
She offers some ground rules to get that civil discussion going:
- Keep it positive. Voss Roberts says both parties in a political discussion should be “honest and sincere” and expect the same courtesy from each other, even if they differ politically.
- Remember who you’re talking to. If you stoop to viewing your friend or family member as a stereotype or caricature, Voss Roberts says, you’re on your way to hostile discourse. Emphasize seeing others as living, thinking persons and you’ve laid the foundation for a civil discussion.
- Take an “apples to apples” approach. The great spiritualists were able to keep things in perspective in debate. They could, as Voss Roberts puts it, avoid comparing the lofty ideals of one side with missteps or gaffes from the other. By framing the debate as one between track records and not disputing the idealism of the other party, Americans can keep emotions out of the discussion and focus on policy.
- Be humble. Voss Roberts says a healthy dose of self-criticism can keep political discussions on a stable course. “We can only learn from one another if we are able to acknowledge our own mistakes and admit that we do not have all the answers,” she says.
- View your discussion partner with respect. Sure, it’s tough to respect someone you disagree with politically. After all, their entire world view is wrong, in your opinion. But what if you could learn something in the debate that leaves you better informed?
“If we set out with the purpose not of changing our dialogue partners but of learning from them, what we learn changes us,” Voss Roberts says. “We become more likely to see others as complex, thoughtful human beings.”
In the end, she has some fresh advice for political foes: Be civil and opened-minded and you might even like it.
“Political and religious affiliations form the bedrock of deeply held notions of truth, authority and identity,” Voss Roberts says. “The entire world is at stake in political and religious disagreements, yet genuine interchanges can surprise and delight us.”