A few weeks ago, I was at a barbeque with friends and their children when a couple of the tween-age kids came up to the adults and proudly said, “We’re talking politics.” One of the mothers, making the “stop” motion with her hand, exclaimed, “Stop! Don’t do that!” She didn’t want to start any trouble. Trouble? The kids had been enjoying themselves, having an intelligent and civil conversation. We, on the other hand, were talking about the latest Netflix series.
It struck me as a very bad thing to be teaching our children from the start that it is wrong to have conversations about sensitive subjects or to argue different opinions. We should be teaching our children that they are privileged to live in a country where they are free to express their opinions and to have their own political and religious beliefs.
Unfortunately, hate has infiltrated those discussions. It’s almost impossible to express an opinion without a hateful response, even among friends and colleagues. Political discussions are not discussions at all; they are full of name-calling and rants of repeated rhetoric from the media. I wish I could get together with friends or go to a party and talk about more than the weather or where I’ve been on vacation.
I did just that the other night over a glass of wine with a good friend of mine who is of a different political persuasion. I told her that I have been frustrated lately about how everyone is always so guarded with their topics of conversation for fear of being assaulted or hurting someone else’s feelings. I asked if we could spend the next few minutes talking about one political issue. We proceeded to do so, promising to listen and not to try to change each other’s mind. It was a success. I even came out of it with a point of view I hadn’t thought of before. I am going to try it again the next time I’m sitting around with a group of friends in conversation.
May I suggest giving this a try yourself? How about inviting a friend and/or colleague to lunch or a drink after work and picking a “sensitive” subject to discuss? You might learn something. It might lead to some really interesting conversations.
Here are a few guidelines my friend and I came up with during our discussion:
- Participate in active listening to really hear what the person is saying, rather than trying to come up with your next point.
- Don’t expect to change their opinion.
- Be respectful.
- Agree to disagree.
- Don’t let social media be your only source of information. Read from different publications for a full spectrum of viewpoints.
In the spirit of PN’s anti-hate campaign, it is my wish that we are respectful and kind to each other and remember that diversity of thought should be something we should strive for, not condemn.
Laura Wotycha is vice president and government contracts manager in Porter Novelli’s Washington, DC office.