News programs are already abuzz with constant discussion about the next President of the United States. From now until next November, presidential candidates, political pundits, media outlets, blogs, co-workers, friends, and neighbors will be discussing Election 2012.
I am blessed to live in a country where we can elect our leaders and speak freely about our political opinions, regardless of how astute or loony they might be. However, I recently threw up a post on my personal Facebook page with what I thought was a rather tame political comment, and a flurry of comments ensued. After things turned too sharp-tongued for my taste, I deleted my post and ceased the conversation.
What I realized is that I love my family and friends too much to start arguments over politics. I know people left of center, right of center, smack-dab in the middle, and so far left or right that the mere sight of each other might cause a fist fight.
The reality is that most of us care about our country, our families, and our communities. We want the best for all of them. We work hard, pay our taxes, give to charity and/or volunteer, and try to raise good kids with values. We happen to have a wide variety of ideas for the role of government in all of that.
It’s wise to avoid stereotypes, name-calling, and yelling if you decide to discuss politics with a family or friend. Before you even start that conversation, ask what you’re trying to achieve. Do you merely want them to understand your position? Are you trying to persuade them? What is the likelihood of being able to make headway or find areas of consensus with this person? Is it worth it?
Three more things to remember as we edge closer and closer to choosing our next president and other leaders of our nation, states, and local governments:
Start making a difference where you are. Since we all want the good of our nation and society (however we think we can achieve it), we can start where we are. Volunteer at your local school, a charity, or even a political campaign, if you are moved in that direction. Consider giving money to a charity that represents your priorities –whether an animal rights organization, a cancer research fund, or a military family assistance project. Check out Amber West’s #gowithoutcampaign.
If you know of someone in need, cook them a meal, lend an ear, or slip them a few bucks. Be sure to cast your vote whenever elections occur in your area, but go an extra step and do something tangible to make our country better by reaching out in your own area.
Remember that people are more than their politics. Unless your life is devoted to lobbying for a specific cause, you are likely engaged in plenty of other activities non-political. You take your kids to little league games or dance lessons, see the newest films or TV shows on the weekend, hobnob with co-workers at a restaurant after work, or head to the lake or beach.
Guess what? Those people sitting next to you, interacting with you, or acting on the screen for you do not all share your politics, and yet they are part of making life enjoyable. You really don’t know how each and every delightful person you come across voted in the last election. And you might be surprised if you discovered who voted for whom; it isn’t always what you predict.
Treat others with civility, respect, and kindness. The surest way to have a society none of us wants to live in? Start verbal and physical brawls with everyone around who differentiates from your brilliantly-composed viewpoint. The ends do not justify the means.
You may be right, but if you are a complete jerk about it, few people will be persuaded by you and many won’t want to hang out with you. Yes, it is possible to passionately state your views, and I’m in favor of that. I am talking here about descending into name-calling(e.g., “idiot”), applying negative adjectives at will to their intentions (e.g., “heartless”), or labeling (e.g., “Nazi”). It’s the principle I tell my kids often: Treat others they way you want to be treated. (Yes, that’s the “Golden Rule”!) Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, also says it well with the habit of “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
By all means, slap a bumper sticker and a sign in your yard touting your favorite candidate. Call into a talk show and give your two cents. Write your congressman and let them know what you think about this bill or that one.
But if you want to have a lovely Thanksgiving, I suggest sticking to the topics of fond family reminiscing, cute things your kids are doing, Black Friday shopping, and sports. Then again, if you live in Texas where I am and have fans of Texas A&M and the University of Texas present, you might end up with an even bigger brawl on your hands.
So what do you think is the secret to keeping good relationships with people whose politics make you want to scream? Have you ever had a bad experience with family and friends when you discuss elections or policies? How do you handle it?
By the way, I’m happy to support the campaign of Piper Bayard-Kristen Lamb for Election 2012. These authors got it goin’ on.