Front Street

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

When discussing politics…

By Gigi

…Always keep in mind that you’re conversing, not campaigning. I’m usually guilty of the latter because of my zeal to be heard and understood. The presidential election is less than one short month away and I’m having conniption fits and migraines as a chaser. For me, talking politics in social life has become very tricky. It’s bad enough that I have newspaper cutouts of Obama’s face gracing the front page of several newspapers taped to my office wall, in plain view of every feminist in my office who voted for Hillary Clinton. I ignore the looks of derision and distain, why? Because as a Director of my unit, they don’t dare say anything to me—and as for me…it isn’t meant to be personal.
Plus I’m cool. I respect boundaries; I don’t ask whom someone is voting for, because that is invasive and intrusive (you know, nosy?) Usually I’ll ask something along the lines of “So how do you feel the election is going?” See? That will allow discussion to unfold in a general way, because it will become more personal soon enough, but in a mutually agreeable manner (gulp!! I hope). The reason politics can become so contentious with most people (with alcoholic drinks), especially at social gatherings, is that we confuse it with values. Politics is theoretical, historical, scholarly and impersonal—or at least it should be. But values are different; values are emotional, personal and tethered to our moral fiber…they define us as human beings.
Telling people they are wrong about something—anything, from their candidate of choice to Iran, Iraq, health care, the Supreme Court, etc. etc., will feel like an attack if we are talking personal values, not politics. And in response, we find ourselves defending our beliefs to the bitter end because one’s definition of self, unwittingly or not, seems to depend on being found right. It’s difficult some times, but I try to be impartial, by guiding the conversation away or simply changing the subject, when you can’t simmer down a loud mouth know it all. And God forbid if fisticuffs ensues, because I’m down…just kidding.
If you are talking to someone younger, try not to condescend to them and if you’re talking to someone older, try to back up your feelings with facts. Also, don’t forget the art of listening. Most importantly, never judge a person’s politics by how he or she is dressed. Such as, if he or she is dressed dull-looking, it doesn’t mean that they’re professorial, cerebral and an intelligent liberal who is too serious to care about clothes or fashion OR if someone is dressed sophisticated that they’re a conspicuous consumptive conservative. Politics can set off fiery debates, so tread softly…and carry mace…just kidding.