Polite Politics

I’m looking forward to November 3rd.  I’m ready for signs to go down, polling phone calls to end, and flyers to stop appearing in my mailbox, at my door, on my windshield.  I’m ready to stop talking politics.

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

– Linus van Pelt, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

A politics-free conversation during midterm elections is as elusive as The Great Pumpkin.

Is there a place for politics in polite conversation?  If the answer is no, then 99% of the conversations I’ve had recently aren’t polite.  It’s unavoidable.  I have smart friends; they’re informed and have opinions.    I wouldn’t think they were so cool if that weren’t true.  Does it matter that most of their opinions are different from mine?  That question is slightly more difficult.  Instead of finding out the answer I’ve been choosing political evasion: I laugh at jokes I don’t find funny or I suddenly become intensely interested in my menu, child, or the conversation on the other side of the table.

Politics turn otherwise polite people into something other than polite people. In my experience, politics transform people into one of the following categories, which surprisingly have never been mentioned on CNN or FOX News:

Liberal? Conservative? You just can't tell!

Political Pat’s: With these people you just never know.  They could be conservative.  They could be liberal.  They aren’t putting signs on their lawns or engaging in political conversations.  They’re not politically neutral but keep their opinions private.  Unfortunately, Political Pats can appear to be apathetic.

 

Boisterous Billy Graham’s: These people are political evangelists.  They want to spread their message, to convert the masses.  Politics are not a conversation topic, they’re a calling.  These people serve a valuable role in our society.  But I don’t want to sit by them at a dinner party.

Muhammad Ali’s: Once the bell rings, these politicos come out swinging.  There’s no room for discussion in a boxing ring; political punches are thrown without situational awareness or sensitivity.  Lately, it seems to me that more people than ever are wearing political boxing gloves.

Disinterested, evil scientist

Disinterested Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s: No, these people are not evil scientists.  Yet, as Dr. Doofenshmirtz said, they “have an intense, burning indifference.”  They may claim a political affiliation but it’s solely based on how their family or friends vote.

 

So, back to the original question: Is there a place for politics in polite conversation?  It’s a trick question because the answer is irrelevant.  You can’t tell friends, colleagues, bosses, or in-laws to stop discussing politics.  We live in a politically-charged world and need to know how to gracefully discuss politics without becoming one of the people categorized above.  We need tact.

“Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” – Isaac Newton

Tact does not require watered-down political beliefs.  You should be able to unapologetically speak your opinions.  The key is how to air those beliefs in social and business settings.

  • Don’t make assumptions:  You never know what others believe!  Your political jokes or negative statements may unintentionally offend.
  • Time and place:  Take cues from the people around you.  If you’re at a party and a political conversation is becoming heated it’s time to “agree to disagree” and change the subject.
  • Don’t bring it up: I don’t think we can avoid political discussions but that doesn’t mean we need to start them.  Particularly at work, the best course of action is to not have the conversation.
  • Be honest but not negative: What if you’re asked for your opinion?  Answer honestly!  But avoid saying anything negative.  You could say, “I voted for Bert because he supports some issues that are important to me.” You should not say, “I voted for Bert because he’s not a complete idiot like Ernie.”
  • Actually listen:  You may hear something that resonates with you or gain a greater understanding about what the other side believes.
  • Always end on a positive:  Even boxers shake hands at the end of a fight.  When discussing politics, end the conversation well.  A humorous comment can help smooth rough conversations.
  • Know your hot topics:  I feel too strongly about some issues to discuss them nicely with people who feel differently – these are my hot topics.  Know your hot topics and discuss them with caution!  Should you avoid your hot topics with friends?  Maybe.  Should you avoid them with your boss?  Most definitely.

How will I be voting in November?  As a Political Pat (a title that makes me want to put on heels and lipstick), I need to start honestly answering this question.  For now, as Dr. Doofenshmirtz said, “I’m an imperceptible enigma.”

6 thoughts on “Polite Politics

  1. Amy –
    Your writing is so fresh and so very good! I loved your article on politics – and I have copied the Newton quote for my facebook page. Plus,will link your article as well to my friends and followers! Keep up the good work…but get to bed earlier…publishing at 2 something in the morning! Girl, you are superwoman!
    Loved it…

    1. Amy,
      Thank you so much! I loved the Newton quote — I think tact is a skill worth developing. 🙂 Truly appreciate your support.

      Amy

      P.S. – I was up WAY too late but it was more like midnight. 🙂 WordPress puts odd times on my posts.

  2. I definitely agree that it is difficult to avoid the topic of politics in everyday conversation – and that there’s a right way and wrong way to handle it. If you don’t mind, I might suggest one additional category: the minority voice. I frequently find myself in situations where I am the only or one of very few who hold views which don’t align with the popular majority. Conversely, I occasionally seek situations where I’m surrounded by those who hold similar views.

    In those situations, I think it becomes easy for the majority group to engage in “bashing” those with dissimilar views. Sometimes, this can take the form of comments that are extremely rude or even hurtful. If someone is the minority voice, I think it becomes even more important to adhere to your guidelines; particularly the 4th, 5th, and 6th. Take the high road; be respectful, calm, and reasonable; and maybe you will prove to the others that productive conversation can exist between opposing parties!

    One more thought…

    My bachelors degree is in political science, and one of the most fundamental theories is that dialogue is essential to politics. Fear or overzealous propriety shouldn’t keep anyone from engaging in political discussion (unless the time and place is truly inappropriate, as you point out). To quote Letitia Baldridge: “I always believe you have to speak up.”

    1. Rachel,
      Thank you so much for your thoughts! Your insightful statements made sense when I read that your education is in political science. I agree with you about the additional category. I categorized myself as a “Political Pat” but that’s because truly I belong in your “Minority” category. My political beliefs don’t align with the beliefs of the people in my life. My personal challenge politically is to speak up more. I absolutely agree with you (and Ms. Baldridge) that you can’t always be silent. By the way, I LOVE that you quoted Letitia Baldridge.

      Have a great day and thanks for reading,
      Amy

  3. Hi Amy,

    I skipped over this link many times because of the very same dreadful word: “politics” or as we Jamaicans call it, “politricks”. But it was quite a palatable read with well-appropriated humour. A must share! And that Newtown quote was priceless and indeed worthy of a facebook repost. I hope you don’t mind me sharing this on my Image Matters radio feature as a social protocol topic…with honourable mentions of course.

    Blessings,
    DJ

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