Since childhood, we’ve been told not to talk about three things: money, religion, and politics. These are contentious subjects. Unless we wish to be considered low class or have poor taste, we should steer conversations away from such landmines.
Well, the hell with that.
If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that we’ve been thrust into hyper-partisan times where everyone seems to exist within personalized echo chambers. We listen only to what we want to hear. We seek only the things we want to see. We dismiss claims contrary to our beliefs, whether those beliefs are true or not.
I’m not the first to diagnose this problem. There are plenty of articles on this. A lot of people may call it “fake news,” but buzzwords get us nowhere.
I’ve wanted to write something like this post since November 2016. I’ve held off. Why? Because we don’t talk about politics.
But look where that got us.
I’m not going to beat around bushes, weeds, or foreign powers that are actively undermining our country (I said I wasn’t avoiding the elephant in the room, so that means Russia). Donald Trump is our president. His administration is being investigated for possibly colluding with Russia. The KKK is active again. So are Neo-Nazis. North Korea is a legitimate threat.
But yes, also, a lot of people didn’t trust Hillary Clinton. Antifa is a thing. Some “mainstream” media sources have published factually incorrect information like dates on emails and timeline typos.
That’s why we need to talk. We need to talk about politics. About religion. About money.
Why are some people Democrats? Why are some people Republicans? When someone says they belong to one party, does that mean they adhere to every checkbox? And if so, why do they support every checkbox? Or which checkboxes do they leave blank?
Humans are complicated creatures. That’s partially, if not wholly, what makes us human. Issues are not black-and-white. We may have opinions on issues that contradict our opinions on other issues. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to change our opinion.
Part of being complicated means we’re obstinate. On both ends of the political spectrum.
Yet, if we hope to make progress, to circumvent gridlock, we need to match our ideals with practicalities. We need to talk.
Last November I saw many people post about Trump and about Clinton. I never commented. I still didn’t really comment after the election. I fully understood both candidates were flawed. I obviously voted for Clinton (if you hadn’t guessed), but that does not mean I don’t recognize why people didn’t. And while I have a hard time grasping why someone would vote for Trump before Clinton (I have less difficulty understand third party votes), I also know those same people struggle to understand why I would vote for Clinton before Trump.
We have to accept that people prioritize different things than we do.
This does not mean some priorities are immediately better than other priorities. Perhaps everyone’s priorities need to be adjusted at times. Compromise is what makes the world turn, from the stock market to the courtroom, from marriage to friendship.
We also need to be open to information. That includes news, whether you deem it fake or not. Even if it is fake, you have to recognize people are hearing that news and making decisions off of that news. We need to address that. And telling someone it is “fake” does not make it fake or make them believe it’s fake.
I’m also not the first to say this: the education system of America is failing us. We are largely incompetent as people, as lovers, as friends, as employees, as human beings. We are also ignorant. This goes from the PhD at Harvard to the cashier at Walmart. Critical thinking seems to be something that was left behind a decade ago. But we need to find critical thinking again.
We should question our news. We should question why people act the way they do. We should question even our own truths. Are we tolerant of only our religion? Do we empathize with people who look like us more than we empathize with others? Does that make us inherently bad? Do we even really know what a buzzword means, or are we reacting to a connotation?
We also should be critical enough to dismiss the absurd.
No, 9/11 was not an inside job. Hillary Clinton is not a lizard. It is possible Donald Trump did not collude with Russia. But no, it is not possible that dinosaurs did not exist. Who the heck would benefit from that?
This brings me to the crux: We need to start talking. At Christmas dinner (or Hanukkah or whatever the heck you celebrate if you celebrate at all), we should talk about what’s going on in the world. Talk about our president. (Whether you like it or not, a 200-year-old system that has kept us together until now did elect him.) Talk about Alabama. Talk about climate change. Your cousin is right—we can’t predict weather well. Why can we predict climate then?
Talk about the rich. This is when we talk about money. How much we make, how much our parents make, these things affect our perspective. Last year I had a family member express how the middle class was shrinking and, five words later, mention her kitchen renovations. I agree the middle class is shrinking, but maybe you’re on the upswing, not the downswing like you’re implying.
Talk about guns. Outlawing guns is not going to just end mass deaths. It will (probably) end mass shootings. But we would do well to remember why the Second Amendment existed. We needed guns so we could revolt against Great Britain. Yes, these are different times. They had different guns. But political revolutions are not good just because it’s a *political revolution.* See China 1949. Be wary, good people.
Talk about religion. Admit you favor your own religion over others—or maybe you think all of the religious are deluded. But back up your assertions. Be prepared to find your assertions have no solid ground to stand on, holy or not.
For all this, when I say talk, I don’t mean that you should argue. I mean, we should say, “I heard…”
And we should not respond, “You are wrong…”
“You are mistaken…”
“I can’t believe you…”
We should say (gently!), “I also think that…”
“I hear where you’re coming from, but I have a slightly different perspective, and here’s why.”
“I agree with that fact, but I came to a different conclusion because of this other fact…”
Or, “Have you considered…?”
We need to have this honesty. We need to ask questions. We don’t need to understand, but we need to try to understand. It’s the only way to make it through 2018.