Q: They say to avoid talking with friends about politics or religion. I have a friend that keeps trying to engage in a political discussion and I keep trying to avoid it. Is it really better to avoid these conversations or should I just address them head on?
A: There is a reason that this common caution exists so in my opinion your trepidation is well founded. As adamant as I am about being honest and direct in relationships when something of moral or ethical consequence is at stake, I admittedly have a somewhat different view of politics. Why are politics any different? I think at the bottom line people’s views and beliefs in this particular matter are so fraught with opinions that are inextricably laced with emotions that you are more likely to find a mine field than any sort of common ground.
For reasons that have yet to be deciphered, political discussions can rarely be had with open-minded diplomacy and thoughtful consideration of one another’s viewpoints. More often than not normally sane and intelligent people turn into mouth frothing, head-spinning lunatics when you confront or disagree with them on a political issue. I’m personally a talk-radio junkie. I listen to it all the time and am well aware of which hosts lean which direction on the political spectrum and so I absorb their thoughts and contributions with this solid awareness in mind. I have little patience for people that hear an opinion or a belief and in lemming like fashion instantly adopt it as their own generally with some sort of bizarre proprietary pride. Personally I grew up an Army brat and will proudly admit to a strong belief and deep esteem for my country and those who selflessly serve it. Having said that I would consider myself a political independent and have voted for both democratic and republican presidents in the past. So I think is not only possible, but would put forth that part of a respect for this amazing country is taking an intelligent and open-minded interest in her politics and welfare.
If you feel as though your friend could engage in a political discussion with level headed tolerance then what a fascinating conversation you could have. But the risk/reward ratio where politics are concerned is rarely, if ever, a balanced equation. The reward is a great discussion among intellectual equals. The risk is something just this side of a personal nuclear meltdown. Hardly a scenario you would take odds on in Las Vegas. Your friend may be have a benign desire to engage in an interesting discussion with a good friend, but that state of mind generally lasts about as long as a politician’s good intentions. Please don’t take this as a criticism of your friend as it is almost an involuntary insanity that sets in the minute we verbally walk down this path. But for as much as I applaud the wisdom of your avoidance I do believe it is appropriate to draw certain lines in the sand, cement, or across the coffee table. I remember an experience in a post-graduate psychology class years ago. So let’s begin with the given that this is a class of reasonably intelligent people sharing a common interest in both education and the human condition. So we are having a discussion about how people identify so strongly with their heritage and this young gal pipes up and announces that every time she travels abroad she’s embarrassed to be an American. I wanted to crawl across the desks and smack the ignorance and hypocrisy right out of her. Did it never in any given moment occur to her, what a rare and wonderful land she lives in that as a young woman she is not only free to say this, regardless of how uninformed and offensive it is, but she is also a young woman working toward a graduate degree in a world where 90% of the population couldn’t imagine such an inconceivable honor? How about a one-way ticket to North Korea where she could spend some time thinking on that particular view point? I couldn’t care less what her political views are, but the minute she played her hand and announced that she had no respect for the fact that she had the freedom to hold and voice those views I wrote her off for the immature entitled girl that she was. You can loathe politicians and despise a given agenda, but the minute you attach that mindset to a disdain for your country, I’ve lost my tolerance. In other words, there is a time to avoid political discussions for the sake of an important and treasured friendship. But there is also a point at which differences can escalate to the point where a mutual respect between people, not just ideas, is difficult to come by.
So rather than doing the avoidance dance any longer, I would just tell your friend that you value and cherish the friendship and would rather not “go there” as you are committed to the relationship lasting far longer than the current season of political ad campaigns.