If you want to be a good person, you’d better be a damned good listener. And you’d better be curious.
There’s a crazy trend sweeping across America. It threatens to split the nation nearly in half. Until it does, turmoil will reign.
We see it on the news each night. We hear it when we talk with friends and family. We even see it if we dare watch a football game.
It’s called political clustering.
Few folks want to talk about it. It makes them squirm. It makes them question why they believe what they believe… something few folks bother to do, especially when they can simply turn on the TV or log on to the web and confirm what they know.
What’s happening, though, is quite simple.
Humans have an innate tendency to live with and near like-minded folks. It’s why pundits on Election Day can claim one county is overwhelmingly conservative while others lean liberal.
It’s a natural phenomenon. It feels good to be with folks like us. And even though it’s unhealthy, it’s never going to change.
It’s in our DNA.
Ready for a Fight?
As the cliché goes, you can pick your friends and you can pick your neighbors. But you can’t pick your family.
And as of tomorrow, we’re officially in the time of year when families spend a lot of time together… sometimes too much time.
With such a divisive political atmosphere smothering our country like a thick layer of smog, I predict a record number of families will be broken by politics this year. It’s yet another nasty side effect of political clustering. We simply aren’t used to being with folks unlike us – even if they are our kin.
Here’s how you can talk politics and avoid a family fight.
First, we must answer a big ugly question…
Why in the world should we talk politics anyway?
If you can’t answer that question… talk about something else. (We’d advise you to discuss something trivial like football or the weather, but even those topics have turned political these days.)
If, however, you believe a political discussion will lead to you making smarter, wiser and more informed decisions… talk on.
The bottom line is a political discussion should not be a debate or a persuasive speech. You’re not going to change somebody’s views by spewing your own. That must not be your goal.
If it is, keep your mouth shut.
But just because you’re not looking for a fight doesn’t mean the other guy isn’t. You must have the verbal skills (we pray you won’t need physical skills) to diffuse a good conversation gone bad.
Here’s the key when you find the temperature rising: It’s hard for just one person to have an argument.
An argument is like a stray cat. If you don’t feed it, it will go away. Feed it, though, and you’ll have a whole lot more.
If the words get heated or personal, have the courage to change the subject.
You Can’t Change Me
And here’s the hardest part for most of us. You must know that listening to other folks’ views won’t erase your own.
Aristotle said the mark of an educated man is the ability to entertain a thought without accepting it.
Listen, we’ve all taken different paths in life.
We all have unique experiences that shape our lives. I’m a deep-rooted conservative because my oh-so-unique path in life led me to a certain ideology. But I’m not ignorant of the fact that being a well-off white guy plays a big role in why I think the way I do.
A good person understands his beliefs and yearns to hear others.
It’s quite unlikely a single idea will change our minds – that’s not the intent, nor should it be – but it will help us make better decisions. And there’s the positive side effect that understanding others will absolutely make us more successful and wealthier.
It’s often painful to listen to a disparaging view, especially without arguing a rebuttal, but I promise it won’t erode your own views.
It will only make them stronger.
The Trump Card
And finally, the No. 1 way to keep a political discussion sane is to walk away with some sort of homework.
“Hmmm, Aunt Edna, I never heard that fact before. It’s interesting. I’ll research it further and consider it.”
Boom… no matter how out of touch her idea is, crazy Aunt Edna feels like she got her point across. Meanwhile, you – and your own ideas – walk away unscathed and unchanged.
And, who knows, you may have learned something.
It’s another reason curiosity is a key trait in a good, successful person.
If you’re truly curious, you shouldn’t dread holiday political discussions. You should yearn for them.
They’ll make you a better person, with stronger beliefs.