As the American political climate continues to become more and more polarizing, politics seems to pervade every aspect of life. One way or another, conversations can start out on topics ranging from movies to sports and everything in between, and somehow still wind up as a furious back-and-forth on the newest proposed bill or the latest scandal. And truly, that is totally okay.
This is Unpopular Opinions, a Lariat column centering around opinions so thoroughly disagreed with that simply conceding to one aspect of their defense will get one mildly maimed. For this entry, it is time to debunk the viewpoint of those 58% who dread discussing politics at family gatherings according to a recent NPR survey.
Even on an expert level, this is a widely championed belief, as evidenced by Larry Sabato Jr., the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
“The nation is deeply polarized and dug in… and no one is going to change their mind because of an argument at the dinner table,” Sabato said. “Indigestion and lasting hard feelings are much more likely to be the consequences.”
What these proponents of dinner table censorship do not fully acknowledge is that, first of all, not every conversation about politics has to be an unproductive fight. Obviously, discourse on any and all topics should be handled with tact and sensitivity. It can get heated when viewpoints people hold close to themselves are challenged, and those being challenged can understandably feel attacked or upset. The moment it becomes a tense yelling match or an aggressive five-on-one, all productivity is lost and it is time to move on.
But in the end, family is family, and what better way to challenge one’s own views or gain a new perspective than from the people one cares about most? If not even the people closest can change one’s mind, maybe it is time to stop looking outward and look inward to one’s inability to understand the perspectives of others, something that is a valuable lesson by itself.
That is not to say to force politics into a conversation- no one wants anyone to be that person. Let a discussion flow naturally, but if it finds its way into the political sphere, do not shy away from the subject or quickly interject to swap topics. Being afraid of dissension or disagreement will not help one’s ideas and understanding thrive; instead, their beliefs stagnate and shrivel up, becoming a sensitive sore spot that causes one to get immediately defensive at the first sign of discord. Likewise, forcing people to pretend to be okay or in agreement with something is denying everyone a chance at knowing someone’s genuine thoughts and feelings. Instead, they get to know the “safe” version of such a person, the fake smiles and laughs they throw up to shield themselves from scorn or ridicule.
As Clarissa Hayward, a political theorist at Washington University in St. Louis, puts it, it is part of the American democratic duty to not be afraid to both challenge and be challenged.
“In political theory, when people talk about democracy, one of the big ideas is ‘deliberative democracy,’ which does not just involve voting, it is talking to people and listening to people about political ideas,” Hayward said. “Your duty is not just to show up and cast a ballot, it is to engage in conversation.”
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