If there is one universal rule of life, it is to never talk about politics or religion, yet life happens. We can’t help but to talk about both forbidden topics for they source some of our greatest passions. In this highly contentious election year for both the Republicans and the Democrats, we find ourselves engaged in these discussions, both in and out of class, over dinner, with family and friends, and most dangerously on social media.
While social media is a universe surrounding itself, I would warn most to not engage in those discussion for all to see. What I want to discuss, though, is protecting our relationships during those discussions. Keep those ties of friendship and family bound throughout political and religious disagreements.
Several years ago, I led a small team to Kaiserslautern, Germany to delve into a software solution. One night in town over dinner, wine ran as red as the sea, jokes abounded particularly about the restaurant’s chocolate salted balls, and soon the three of us engaged in a most heated discussion about politics. However, to this day we remain good friends. How did we avoid the curse of the unfriend? I will offer several guidelines to help us navigate the treacherous waters of political and religious discussions.
The first should go without saying, but simply acknowledge the right of each person to make an argument however flawed or flawless. With that right, however, comes a responsibility that most of us fail at – listening. We may find a particular view abhorrent to our belief, but a right to speak is a responsibility to listen.
Next, as we listen to each argument, try to separate the argument from the conclusion. Understanding the logic and background of an argument doesn’t infer acceptance of the conclusion. In fact, understanding the logic behind the argument helps us to understand, develop a logical retort, and may perhaps open our eyes to avenues of thought previously blocked. Accepting the argument is not accepting the conclusion.
The third step is to govern our response. At no time should name calling be used either against the person, the argument, or the objects of the arguments. Avoid high and mighty responses. While you may be an expert in all logical fallacies and can recite their Latin names in perfect annunciation, the person you are talking to may not, so avoid coming across as “I’m smarter than you.”
The fourth step follows military use-of-force protocols. If possible don’t elevate the intensity of the argument. Understand that discussions have continuums as does force, and when presented with a low intensity argument don’t volley back with high intensity. Don’t respond to a casual question with a long and loud tirade about how that person’s belief is destroying the fabric of what you love. Always seek to deescalate the level of force in the argument, and when possible avoid escalation.
The fifth step is to close the discussion with topics apart from the political or religious. Talk about family, sports, or whatever is appreciated by the both of you. Let the last thing that is spoken and heard be about friends and family.
Finally, make the active choice that you will not let any disagreement damage your relationship with that person. It is always a good idea to talk later about innocuous subjects even if it is just the weather. This will help to reaffirm your relationship will always rise above the vitriol found in contentious subjects.
I hope this helps all of us to maintain decorum among our relationships. I should however make one final observation – Drinking and Disagreeing is Wrong!