It’s no secret that politics is an extremely hot and heavy subject right now. More often than not, innocent conversations can quickly turn into a battleground for political spew and rhetoric. College campuses have become a particular hotbed for discussion, protests, and activism on both sides of the political dichotomy. Tensions are high, and whether you’re politically active or not, personal relationships can sometimes feel like you’re walking on eggshells when you realize you have differing political beliefs. Despite the vast chasm between the opposing sides, there are ways around it.
Here are some do’s and don’ts of talking politics on your campus:
Be Sensitive to People’s Beliefs
Politics can be emotional for some people, so being understanding is key to maintaining a civil conversation. Personal experiences that shape our lives often externalize into our political beliefs. These factors often include people’s economic status, race, traumatic life experiences, etc. The same way that your life experiences have helped shape your political beliefs can be said the same for your counterpart. Be sensitive and remember that everyone experiences life differently. Try not to invalidate people’s experiences, even when they’re hard to comprehend.
Listen with an Open Mind
Being open-minded during a political discussion is the best way to learn something new. After all, these
are the times where we’re meant to keep exploring, growing, and learning. None of us knows everything, and nobody expects us to either! Make sure you’re actively listening to understand your counterpart, and not just listening to respond. You’d be surprised at how much you can learn from someone you disagree with.
Be Ready to Admit You Don’t Know Enough About a Subject
Fake news – we’ve heard this term a lot. But it’s important to realize how easy it is to contribute to the spread of false information when we aren’t brave enough to admit ignorance. If you’re discussing a topic that you’re not well-versed in, learn to admit that you don’t know enough to discuss it. It’s easy to get frustrated in the middle of an argument and spit out random information you’ve heard through the grapevine without fact-checking. However, this leads to the perpetual cycle of the spread of false information that ultimately leads to misguided decisions by voters. Be ready to research and keep learning. And like I mentioned: nobody expects us to know everything.
Think That You’re Going to Change Someone’s Opinion
One of the most vivid memories I’ve had since being in college is Roger Ream joking, “whoever has ever won a political debate on Facebook deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.” Though he used it in the
context of Facebook (which we all know can become extremely political at times), I think it can still be applied to everyday life. Nobody has ever “won” in a political debate among informed peers. You are not going to change the mind of someone who has a well-founded opinion or a rooted belief. You may encourage somebody to fact check or do some more research, but it is highly unlikely that you will completely change somebody’s mind on a subject. Don’t get frustrated or lash out if the discussion ends in a stalemate.
All too often, we are required to dichotomize ourselves between two opposing dimensions on the political spectrum. But how many of us can actually say that we have absolutely, one hundred percent of the time, agreed with the group or party that we frequently align with? It’s dangerous to assume that every Republican or Democrat agrees with every stance their party takes. I mean, really – when there are almost 400 million of us in the United States, it’s virtually impossible that a two-party system could represent every single one of our diverse ideologies. So, ask questions. Try not to classify people with their party. If you really want to get to know someone, ask where they sit on certain subjects that are important to you before you discuss party affiliation. Find out what you have in common with one another. Identifying someone’s political affiliation is a very surface conversation. Everyone deserves the chance to be unraveled and discovered.
College and the world becoming so much more diverse, and it’s important to try and discover what others think, feel, and have experienced. Start the dialogue and work towards a more civilized, tolerant stage for our ideas.