by Jessica Hall, Guest Contributor
Last year I posted the following to my Facebook page:
:Insert rant where I discuss at length how I miss the days when Facebook was about catching up on life with friends and not about politics and ads.:
I posted it after a political issue and I’m assuming a slew of related sponsored posts, took over my newsfeed. I got it. Everyone had an opinion. And I had mine. But the inundation was too much.
The thing is–I love politics. I grew up in a politically active family and love following issues and campaigns that I care about.
But that day I found myself angry with a lot of my friends, people that I really like, until I found out their stance on political issues. What can we do about this? We all have those friends and family that we love but who just stand on the other side of the aisle.
With the 2016 Presidential election season kicking off, here are 8 tips to talk politics, in person and on social media, without unfriending each other in the process.
8 Tips for Civil Political Discussions with Friends and Family Members
1. Don’t stereotype.
When I married my husband I assumed that most military spouses I’d meet would be conservative (I’m more liberal), but boy was I wrong.
What I learned quickly was that military spouses, of course, were all over the political spectrum.
So just how there is every type of military spouse there is every type of Democrat, Republican, Independent, and everything in between. Bottom line: avoid stereotyping an entire group of people, because as we know, everyone is unique. If you saw a meme or article that characterized all (INSERT YOUR PARTY HERE) as rude or unintelligent or worse, you’d be upset. Don’t say the same about those who may not hold all of the same beliefs as you.
2. Avoid hurtful language.
Related to stereotyping, but worth mentioning on its own–don’t resort to calling people names or using foul language. If you like or dislike someone’s opinion, or the action of say President Obama or Speaker Boehner, it isn’t fair or right to call them (INSERT YOUR FAVORITE EXPLETIVE HERE). They are still a person, and someone you know may agree with what they did or are doing. Calling people names gets you nowhere.
Instead focus on why you disagree with their policies and discuss that, not just that you have never liked them and never will so everything they do is completely wrong. And avoid calling your friend (or their friends) a bad name. That’s a definite no-no, and probably a friendship-ender.
3. Check the source of your news.
Yes, certain publications and news channels sway certain directions, but regardless of that, if they are doing journalism, they will have quotes from both perspectives. Opinion pieces will rarely have both perspectives, because they are just that, one person’s opinion.
Before sharing something on Facebook or Twitter, read it and know if it’s an article or opinion, and if it’s an opinion, acknowledge that you agree with this particular person’s opinion. Presenting stories with no commentary can open Pandora’s box, so be prepared to discuss your opinion, defend it and potentially be criticized.
Whether or not you have a formed opinion on an issue–listen to both sides. Understand why they believe what they do. This shows that you respect each other’s opinion even if you don’t agree, and you may find something that you do agree on, but that leads me to…
5. Know that you probably won’t convince someone.
If someone has a very strong opinion about one issue or multiple issues, know that whatever you say probably won’t change their mind. But don’t be afraid to talk about the differences, you may find common ground. The more you understand each other, the more you can have a civil conversation or know to drop the issue.
6. Do speak up.
If you are with friends or family members and have a differing opinion, do say something. Acknowledge their opinion and share yours. We shouldn’t live in a vacuum where everyone we talk to has the same opinion because discussing ideas may find a solution! At the very least you will learn from each other.
My husband and I don’t agree on every issue, but we discuss (and debate) them. Sometimes we can sway the other to our side, but more often, we end understanding where the other stands on the issue.
7. Be excited that your friends care.
I admit that I got upset at a friend once for being completely committed to a cause I disagreed with, but what if they didn’t care? At least by volunteering and getting out there, she was speaking her mind and a part of the political process.
With voter turnout low across the country, I should have celebrated that she was involved, despite our disagreement. Celebrate that they are involved and care, then listen and discuss.
8. If all else fails, disengage.
There are some people in your life that will share offensive articles and memes no matter what. If you are offended by what they share and know that this will never stop, hide them from your news feed on Facebook or ask them to not discuss politics when you’re together because it has never resulted in a productive or respectful conversation.
If you do hide them from your news feed, don’t go check their profile for their political posts–it’ll just upset you (trust me, I’ve done it), but do check if you know they posted photos from a vacation or birthday party that you want to check out.
If it’s someone that you truly aren’t friends with IRL, say the acquaintance from the FRG 3 or 5 duty stations ago, don’t feel bad unfriending them if it goes sour.
If there are certain news sites or sponsored posts that keep coming up, you can also hide those pages on your feed. I’ve done that for a few blogs that I find offensive and it helped my news feed be much happier.
Will the next 18 months be long? Yes. But can we all agree to find some common ground and have respectful conversations? I hope so.
Social media sites are for connecting with one another. You can make it what you want. For me that is a happy place, with more vacation and family photos than political vilification, but the politics are there to stay, and important discussions to have, so let’s make it an open, friendly forum, not one for name-calling.
What tips do you have for staying civil when politics comes up?
Jessica Hall is a freelance communications consultant and author of More Than A Military Spouse. She has a Master’s degree in Communication, Digital Media from the University of Washington and a dual B.A. in Journalism and History from New York University. Jessica is an Army spouse and enjoys cooking, exploring whatever duty station she’s at and volunteering more than she should. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.