Don’t talk politics!

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Have your parents, or has someone important to you, advised you “Don’t talk politics!?” It’s one of those heated topics where most everyone has his or her own opinion, and may see talking politics as a threat, or fuel for a likely argument. But what’s the downside of keeping quiet about your own political opinions? We’re already headed towards being a more and more divided country, with today’s problems and challenges, and with all the diversity this “melting-pot” nation presents us with. So it may feel natural to hold back on your ideas or opinions, to avoid controversy, or to avoid taking sides and further dividing the nation. And we’re supposed to be a nation “by the people, and for all the people.” If we avoid discussing opposing ideas, we are likely to become less tolerant of other points of view. To be a true democracy, shouldn’t we listen to all points of view, consider them thoughtfully, and make intelligent, informed decisions? When we stop communicating well, we can’t make truly informed or wise decisions.

Well, are there ways to talk politics, without making the situation worse, or widening the divide? Positive psychology offers some ideas and principles. Some of these are:

Keep an open mind. Consider alternate ways of seeing the world. Be open to others’ ideas, opinions, and hypotheses. Withhold your judgment long enough to hear what others have to say. Maybe that’s why we have two ears, but only one mouth? Maybe we’re supposed to listen more than speak?

Listen well. Give people enough time and opportunity to present their ideas, rather than just waiting impatiently to offer your own opposing idea, interrupting, or just taking the other side for the sake of argument. “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Or, lest ye start a fight!

Ask questions. Try to really understand their ideas, their principles, and their point of view. Look for the good side of whatever they have to offer. After all, don’t they have a 50/50 chance of being correct in a conflict?

Try to find some basic principles you both agree on, or at least can understand, and can respect and appreciate. When you just shoot down what they believe, you’re sure to have a dispute that won’t be productive.

Tolerate differences in opinion. Don’t suppress the points others try to make. Don’t we all want an America where we’ve all got a voice to consider, and equal opportunity to express it? Isn’t a mild expression, or protest, better than rioting, violence, or denying human rights to everyone? Thank God we’re all different. If we were all the same, we might stagnate and stop learning and growing.

Expose yourself to more sources of information. Some sources will be very one-sided. Watch CNN and network news, but also watch C Span, Link TV, international news sources, maybe some talk radio, and more than one newspaper. Don’t avoid talking to people with ideas very different from yours. See if you can have discussions or meetings with people from other churches, other races, and politicians from both sides of the fence, community leaders, and educators in diverse fields. Everyone’s got a story, and something to offer. I find them to be available for good discussions when invited.

Seek out folks who are more interested in real issues and morals, instead of a just adherence to one political party, or one special interest. When you vote, vote for principles, not party lines. I like to focus more on what we can agree on, and work together for solutions on, rather than negative criticism.

Choose issues important to you to pursue, to make us a better people and a better nation, and build your own character. Be the best you can be. And be the best citizen you can be. It’s another path to that even better, happier life that we all deserve.

Bob Denny retired from counseling troubled youth and families as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (MH6339) in Florida, and retired from teaching psychology at Florida Gateway College in 2015. Please address your comments to Bob.Denny8@gmail.com or phone 386 454 4950.