Thursday, September 6, 2012

8 Simple Rules for Talking About Politics

I have a confession to make.

My politics are left of center. Socially, I'm as liberal as the day is long. Economically, I like when the government invests in infrastructure, healthcare, science, and education, but I also like free trade agreements, and think that we probably regulate businesses a tad too much. I tend to think of myself as a Clinton Democrat.

Phew. Glad I got that out of the way.

So that's my politics.

Here's the thing. I don't really like talking about politics because people have a tendency to get...heated....when discussing political matters. It kind of blows me away that you can have a friend or family member who you get along with great most of the time, who you can have sane conversations with about TV, sports, money, or whatever, but the second you say "I think I might vote for Barack Obama/Mitt Romney/Jean Luc Picard", all hell breaks loose. In my experience, people tend not to talk about politics so much as they shout at each other about it. At least when it comes to people who disagree with THEIR politics.

Religion is basically the same way, but that's a topic for another time.

Because I hate shouting, I tend not to talk about politics all that much. If I DO get into a political discussion, I have eight rules that I try to conduct myself by. They are as follows:

1. Assume the person you are talking to is not an idiot. I get...irritated when someone says "Well, that guy is an idiot because he doesn't believe in climate change." I always assume (at least at first) that the person I'm talking to is at least as smart as I am, if not smarter and that if they have come to a different conclusion than I have on a particular topic they probably have a perfectly intelligent reason for coming to that conclusion. If over the course of conversation, I realize that a person's opinions are un-informed, I will STILL treat them as if they are the most intelligent person on the planet.

2. Do your research. It's probably not a good idea to get into a heated debate about a topic you aren't overly familiar with. Like, my general feeling is that we should probably be getting more energy from renewable sources, but to be honest, I'm not super-familiar with the issues surrounding energy policy. So, if I do decide that I want to have a lengthy heart-to-heart about solar panels and fracking, I'll make sure that I do a whole bunch of research first.

3. Assume the person you are talking to is not evil. Have you ever heard of Godwin's Law? It basically says that the second you compare someone you disagree with to Nazis or Hitler, you've lost the argument. You can read more about it here: People have different opinions. Having an opinion different than your own doesn't make someone else evil. It makes them different. Unless they disagree that Coca Cola is better than Pepsi. Pepsi is Nazi cola.

4. Try to understand opinions that are different than yours. There's that old chestnut that you should "walk a mile in someone else's shoes" before you judge them. I don't like all old sayings, but that's a good one. If someone you are having a political discussion with believes that we should, for instance, allow all Americans to own automatic weapons, and you don't (or vice versa), try to understand why they have that opinion, and don't just assume that their reason for holding that opinion isn't as valid as your reason for holding yours.

5. Be willing to change your mind. This is a tough one. People tend to have political convictions more than they have political opinions. But, if you're talking to someone about politics (or anything) and they present a really, really compelling case for their point, and you realize that their evidence/information trumps yours, and that you might be wrong? Be willing to admit that you might be wrong. It's okay to be wrong, as long as you realize you are wrong, and are willing to change your mind.

6. This is the big one for me. Always- ALWAYS follow the rules of logic before emotion. Carl Sagan had this great quote- "I don't want to believe. I want to know." That's a quote about religion, but I think it's a good one to apply to politics too. I think some people believe things for emotional reasons, and not reasons based on cold logic. I try, as best I can, to follow logic as much as possible in thinking about, and expressing my opinions on politics.

7. Don't change the subject because you don't have a good answer to someone's point. You know what drives me crazy? When you're watching a politician being interviewed and they get asked a question they have no answer to, and they immediately change the subject. If you don't know what you're talking about just admit it and move on.

8. "Don't be a dick". Yes, I apply Wheaton's Law to political discussions. Be nice to people. Even people you disagree with- ESPECIALLY people you disagree with. It's what Jesus would have done. Buddha too. And Captain Picard.

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