Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Politics vs friendships

Over the past several weeks, friends and family have reported hostility from their friends when discussing politics. Although my political discussions with others often expose differences of opinion, I never encounter hostility. I think that this is because, in my line of work and in my leisure time, I am usually surrounded by intelligent, thinking people.

Here is the advice, somewhat amended, that I gave to one young family member on facing hostility in political debate:

Just because someone disagrees with us doesn't mean he or she is hostile toward us. Some people sense hostility or rejection only because they aren't comfortable with their own opinion or they don't feel comfortable with the fact that others might have opinions different from their own. Confidence comes from experience in debate and with fully developing one's own opinions through study, reason, and prayer -- not emotion.

I think that it is even more true that those who truly are are hostile (or defensive -- a form of hostility) in debate also generally lack confidence in their own opinion. Because they consciously or unconsciously know their argument is weak, they rely on emotion to argue their side rather than reason and facts. They generally cannot be taught or convinced. Debate with these people is not worth the bother and it only spoils friendships.

Those who base their arguments on emotion rather than legitimate statistics, facts, and logic will not be convinced by using facts or statistics until they are willing to allow facts to override their emotion. Failing that remote possibility, the only way for the facts- and logic-based party of such an argument to get out of the argument is to simply walk away.

Then, there are those who argue simply because that's what they like to do or it's all they know how to do. The result is the same: wasted effort and ruined friendships.
I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it. — George Bernard Shaw
If our political opinions are well researched, based on facts (not emotion), soundly reasoned, and we can explain ourselves clearly, we're all free to have whatever political opinions we like. The reason we have the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech and of the press is not to protect pornographers, but to ensure a diversity of political opinion from which we all can learn.

Politcal debate sharpens and clarifies one's own opinions. More imporantly, we learn from each other. Discussing politics with people who agree with us on everything cannot do that. But, debate opponents must have something to add to the debate. Those who resort to hostility or emotion do so primarily because they have nothing to add.

Most importantly, never assume that a difference of political opinion is a personal attack. It's only politics. Never take offense at another person's statements -- accept them in the spirit in which they should have been said, not in the spirit in which you perceived them to have been said.

So, keep on discussing politics with well-read, thinking people. Have boring apolitical friendships with everyone else.

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