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The Saint Anselm Crier

The student news site of Saint Anselm College

The Saint Anselm Crier

The student news site of Saint Anselm College

The Saint Anselm Crier

Talking politics, keeping friends: matter of time, place

Members+of+College+Democrats+and+Republicans+have+repeatedly+come+together+to+discuss+politics+civilly+in+a+polarized+democratic+environment+ahead+of+elections.
Courtesy/Jacob Akey
Members of College Democrats and Republicans have repeatedly come together to discuss politics civilly in a polarized democratic environment ahead of elections.

As the Presidential Election season moves into full swing, it seems a prudent time to talk about how we talk about politics. If conventional wisdom is to be trusted, the best way to talk about politics is to not talk about it. This is a generally safe policy to follow when in mixed company and can save a person many an uncomfortable conversation. However, the fact that we live on a politically involved campus during a presidential election creates a dangerous environment where you or a loved one may catch a terrible disease: the desire to talk about politics. This illness is incurable and almost terminally leads to political discourse. It’s a dangerous and scary thing, but there are ways to avoid the worst symptoms. If treated right, you actually may find political discourse an enjoyable illness to suffer. So, what’s the cure? I have three recommendations.  

First, the other person doesn’t need to agree with you. When hoping to engage in a political discussion, it’s natural to try and talk with people you agree with politically. This makes for a safe discussion with little risk of a fight breaking out. That seems like the goal, right? Unfortunately, the more we hear people agree with us, the more we become convinced our opinions are correct. 

This is dangerous, as it is blatantly untrue. Political opinions are still just that- opinions. There are no ‘correct opinions’, only opinions that you may agree with more than others. That means other people’s opinions are equally as valuable as yours, as silly as they may seem, and you stand to benefit from hearing other people’s opinions. To hear them, though, you will have to talk with people you disagree with. 

Second, you don’t need to change the other person’s mind. When you’re talking with someone you disagree with, it’s easy to want to try and bring them around to your point of view. The thing is, when your goal in a conversation is to make someone change their mind, it suddenly gives the conversation winners and losers. The other person loses when they say, “you’re right”, and you win when they bow defeated to your superior intellect. The problem is that nobody wants to lose. The win/lose mindset turns a talk into an argument, where you are justified in verbally attacking the other person. After all, they’re trying to humiliate you. 

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A much healthier mindset is to try and make your conversation partner understand your point of view, rather than make them subscribe to it. It’s easy to say everyone is entitled to their opinions, but it’s much easier to believe that when you understand why they hold those opinions. That understanding is the goal of political discourse because both sides win. You can each walk away from your talk knowing, while they may not agree with you, that the other person isn’t crazy and has thoughts deserving of respect. That makes it a lot easier to live with them. 

Thirdly, know when to stop talking. Now, it is an unfortunate truth that not everyone is as enlightened as you are in the ways of respectful political discourse. It’s an unfortunate truth that while you may want to talk, somebody just wants to fight. Maybe they are in a foul mood. Maybe they’re under the impression that they are correct about everything. Maybe they didn’t read this article. Either way, you will encounter a person who just refuses to let you disagree with them. It’s unpleasant, but not everyone wants to have a civil discussion, and if they don’t want it, you can’t have it. If you find yourself caught in conversation with such a person, it’s probably best to try and move on to another topic. Remember, the easiest way to start a fight is to not know when to stop talking.

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