Written By The Dad
It’s an election year so…’tis the season for politics.
Actually, political season is all the time. Politics never really go away and they’re impossible to escape. What used to be isolated water cooler talk at the office or arguments with that uncle on holidays now feels omnipresent.
With the exponential growth of social media and new media politics are in our face 24 hours a day. It can be annoying to go online to see pictures of your friend’s cat and have to weave your way through memes for and against every single political stance to get there, right? Do I sound old? The vast landscape of new media allows everyone to have a voice and it seems like the majority of people use theirs unsparingly.
I’ve heard a lot of people say they’re not into politics and don’t like to talk about them. I understand the sentiment but I have a different perspective. I think it’s not the politics that bother people, it’s the hostility between disagreeing sides.
People Are Jerks
Disagreement isn’t really the problem, even though we like to think it is. I’ve seen many people decry the volume of political conversation but they’re usually referring to the disagreement. No one ever demands that a sympathetic opinion to their own be taken offline.
So it’s not the politics, is the disagreeableness. Lack of empathy is really what makes everyone uncomfortable.
I actually think arguing about politics can be a good thing. Hear me out…
It’s All a Matter of Perspective
Political discourse isn’t really as bad as we think it is. I make this mistake all the time. I read through a comments section of an online post and think our species is nearing extinction from stupidity.
Then…I remember that this country has survived everything from political assassinations to a civil war. In light of the evil that has clouded several chapters of our history anonymous taunts in comment sections or opinionated friends on social media seem almost healthy by comparison.
And regardless…politics aren’t going away.
Politics Are Life
Politics aren’t just an academic subject. Politics touch every corner of our lives.
We all pay taxes.
We drive on roads and bridges paid for by those taxes. We go to schools which are paid for by taxes. Every product we use or consume is regulated in some way by government. Most of this was decided by people we voted into office, or by someone appointed by someone we voted for; the rest of it was decided by previous generations’ political decisions.
Whether we like it or not, political decisions made now will affect not just us but future generations. That sounds cliche but it’s true and it’s important.
I’m boring myself.
The point is, politics have always been everywhere, we just talk more openly about it now than ever.
I think this is a good thing.
Free Market of Ideas
The term “freedom of speech” gets thrown casually, but it’s an important concept. In this country we’re free to say things. We’re allowed to disagree with almost anyone almost any time. We’re specifically granted the right to speak out against our government. Not every country allows its citizens such a luxury. Given that our country was founded on this principle and continues to afford us this freedom I would argue that disagreement and debate are actually patriotic. Hey! I’m serious.
As a result we have a free market of ideas. I feel like this is probably the most important market in which a citizenry can partake. We hear about economic free markets all the time; economic free markets are driven by competition.
Therefore, this theoretical market of ideas is, by definition, driven by disagreement. We have the privilege to get second opinions on every single opinion or reported fact we hear or read. We never have to settle for an opinion of any one expert, we can weigh our options and choose what best fits our needs.
I think this is a good thing.
This freedom to sort through information on our own necessitates personal responsibility. Not everyone is comfortable with this responsibility. As Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote, “In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own.”
Politics in Our Home
This is why we don’t shy away from politics in our house. Critically sifting through information is a skill we want to use, continually improve, and appreciate.
Home is the best place to learn and refine this skill, because unlike the public forums, we can’t just end a conversation by saying something mean and leaving the scene. We love and care about each other first and foremost, so whether or not an argument ends in agreement it always needs to end in love and care for the other person. Empathy isn’t just helpful, we’re family so it’s a requirement.
I’m writing this blog post after two strong political disagreements between my wife and me. We share most political opinions already and have co-developed a few more as our marriage has progressed, so rigid political disagreement is actually pretty jarring.
It struck me that the reason neither of us took our ball and went home, so to speak, is because we were already home and we had to share the ball. Winning the argument wasn’t the goal, agreement was; not necessarily complete agreement on which side of the argument was correct, but agreement on what was important to each of us. We had to actively seek common ground, which meant actively seeking to understand something we didn’t agree with.
Each time we spent hours talking it out. It took hours, but we were willing to work the conversation all the way through because we knew we weren’t willing to go to sleep angry.
I think this is a good thing.
Lessons For My Kids
…by which I mean “lessons for myself that I hope I can model to my kids.”
- Feel free to have opinions. Don’t be pushy about them, but feel free to have them and express them.
- Understand that no matter what, someone somewhere probably disagrees with you. That’s just life. Quantity, quality or volume of disagreement isn’t indicative of correctness.
- There’s also bound to be someone somewhere who feels just like you do but may not have had the courage to say something. You can be an encouragement to them by putting your own flag in the ground, so to speak. Understand still that amount of agreement doesn’t equate to correctness either.
- In fact, correctness is usually relative. Be okay with that and do the best you can while sticking to your morals. There’s not necessarily a perfect answer, but the more answers there are the more an idea can be improved.
- Don’t follow the crowd unless the crowd is right. The crowd’s usually wrong. Don’t get daddy started.
- Listen. The more you are open to at least hearing another point of view the more you are opening yourself to learning. In our house, learning is more imporant that being right all the time. Learning doesn’t mean you have to change your mind, but at the very least it can add depth to our opinion.
- Always lead with empathy. Disagreement can be uncomfortable but don’t let it ruin your day. You have the privilege of being the steadying, mitigating force. Don’t let the yappy dogs (including your parents at times) drag you down. Critics are a dime a dozen.
- Avoid the comments section.