Caught in the crossfire between your Republican spouse and your liberal grandson or other relative? Finding the dinner conversation a bit too hot to handle? Here are some ways to return to “civil discourse” as we move through election season.
- Find some common ground: how about those Russians? No one likes the Russians! Bring up Vladimir Putin and cast out the image of his shirtless horse ride. That may do the trick. It also may end your dinner party, but be brave and give it a try.
- Remember that politics should be debated in a free society.
Men in every age debated politics- from the Grecian Assembly to the Roman Forum, from the salons of France to the mutual improvement societies of colonial America. Being able to reasonably discuss the political issues of the day was considered a vital and essential part of being a well-rounded, well-educated, man. Indeed, one of the express purposes of education during this time was to equip men to be able to hold their own in the political forum. (Source: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2008/09/21/how-to-debate-politics-civilly/
- Humor: Turning a tense moment into a lighthearted jest is an art, but it is worth a try! Offer to get a shovel to dig both of your battling guests out of their holes, for instance.
- Ask questions: Try your very best to keep an open mind. At the very least, you respect this person who holds a differing opinion or you wouldn’t be spending time with them. Try to dig into their thought process and ask them what it is about their candidate that appeals to them. You may find an attribute that you can affirm, even if you can not endorse their political choice. For instance, their statement “His plan for medical insurance is awesome.” could be followed up by “Yes, I agree we need to watch out for the poor and vulnerable, though there may be more than one way to accomplish that.” This probably isn’t the time to advocate strongly for your candidate’s plan, unless you truly sense an openness in the discussion.
- Use props! Breaking up a conversation between battling relatives? May we suggest water pistols or marshmallows launched across the room? The humor and sheer quirkiness of it usually derails the conversation and results in laughter. Just be prepared to take the consequences!
- Agree to one of their statements. If your “opponent” has a statement to which you can even marginally agree, do so. “That’s a good point,” followed by a change of conversation can sometimes do the trick.
- Evaluate your own candidates with a realistic eye. There is no perfect candidate. Be free to admit your reservations, disarming your opponent.
- Give up: realize that very few people actually change their minds following a rousing political discussion. Prioritize your relationship over your philosophy. Make a few good points and change the subject to the weather, sports or the food you just ate.
- Be kind: resist the temptation to equate a different opinion with low intelligence.
- Serve the coffee! You knew we’d have to include that, right? In our opinion, good coffee=civil debate. Just serve the “Right” coffee!
Each election season it is tempting to believe that the issues are black and white, life or death. It is easy to point out personality quirks of the candidates and lambaste them. There will be no political discussion this year without a discussion of Donald Trump, for instance. his strong personality and character traits make it a virtual certainty that your democratic guest will want to dissect your view on Trump.
But what is old is new again. Did you know that Teddy Roosevelt also displayed some very “Trump-like” characteristics in the heat of political discussions?
For example, during his days as a young state assemblyman in New York, Teddy Roosevelt would frequently lose his cool during debates on the Assembly floor. He’d call his opponents “cold blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid, old psalm singing Indianapolis politicians” or “oily-Gammon, churchgoing specimens,” or simply “classical ignoramuses.”
Point this out during your discussion and take a moment or two to enjoy the time-honored practice of political rabble-rousing.
We live in a great country, a country which changes its political system without bloodshed or recrimination. We live in a time and place where men can disagree vehemently, have an election, and abide by the outcome. What a gift and blessing!
In the end, we’re all Americans.
So go out there and have some fun this season. And if you have any great techniques to turn the tide of political discussions, we’d love to hear them!
Additional reading including some fun and basic quizzes to boost your knowledge of the political system: http://lifehacker.com/5990295/how-to-avoid-sounding-like-an-idiot-when-discussing-politics