My grandfather taught me to never talk politics or religion in “polite company.” You probably heard the same from one of your grandparents. And you know what? It’s really good advice.
The political climate in our country has arguably never been this divisive. According to recent Pew research, nearly six-in-ten U.S. adults (59%) say they find political conversations with those they disagree with “stressful and frustrating,” up from 50% just a year ago.
Not engaging and enlightening. Stressful and frustrating.
No matter which side of the fence you’re on, you likely believe that you’re receiving credible information while your opponents are being manipulated by propaganda. When you start from that place — where you own the facts and the other person is a mere [fill in the blank: “snowflake libtard” or “bigoted troglodyte”] — where can a conversation go? Absolutely nowhere.
Which makes these conversations not just stressful and frustrating, but pointless. You’re not changing their mind. And they’re not changing yours.
Still, when Uncle Frank voices his opinion about vaccinations at the Thanksgiving table, or some Facebook connection (that you have no real connection with) posts about how the candidate you voted for is the worst thing that ever happened to this country, you can’t help but reply. You can’t help but tell them why they’re wrong. And why you’re right.
But … maybe you can help it.
Because we’re not as different as we may think. One thing we share, for example, is all that stress and frustration. And it’s making us increasingly unhappy.
More accurately: We’re making each other increasingly unhappy.
So, my holiday wish for ALL Americans is this:
Heed the advice of our elders. Disengage from political conversations in “polite company” (and that includes digital platforms, like social media and texts). And the next time a person from the other side makes a political point that gets your blood boiling, take a breath.
Then change the conversation. Say you’d rather not talk about that, but [insert thing you’d like to discuss, something the other person may find interesting/funny/etc.].
Put a flower in their gun barrel. Flatten acrimony with kindness.
It’s become a cliché of late, but there really is more that unites us than divides us. We all care deeply about our families and friends. We worry about our children (on one side) and our parents (on the other). We long for things we’ll never have. We try to remind ourselves to be more thankful for the things we do have. We’re afraid to die. Yet we feel most alive when we’re excited about something new, or proud of something we accomplished, or feel the loving embrace (literally or metaphorically) of another person.
In the simplest terms: We all share what it is to be human.
John Lennon, who (ironically) was shot and killed on this day in 1980, told us that all we need is love. That’s perhaps a bit reductive. But, in a larger sense, it’s kind of true — isn’t it? That thing Pop Pop taught me about how to act in “polite company” was a lesson in kindness and humility. An implicit reminder that I don’t know everything. And even if I did, what good comes from attacking someone with it? Ours is a wounded nation. And kindness — love — heals a lot more effectively than being right.
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