In America 2017, the divisiveness of politics is staggering; it is staggering in that it could interrupt an event as innocuous as dining in a pizzeria with friends.
Picture it: Fox News is blaring in the background as you take another bite of your slightly-difficult-to-chew garlic knot. Suddenly, the man two tables over is offering his devout praise of President Trump and agreeing with Sean Spicer’s catastrophic Holocaust remarks, and you’re feeling a light nausea come on. Is it the grease or this person’s politics?
This is the nation in which we live. There is nothing wrong with it, so to speak; Americans just happen to vocalize their political views — as Americans tend to vocalize much else — and you have the option to remain quiet in the presence of strangers or to voice your own perspective.
The problem with the latter option is that it often results in anger and with the former you feel silenced by your own reservations, by a misdirected sense of guilt or even by fear of openly sharing what is really a freedom of Americans to share.
Something to consider: in 2017, should anybody feel silenced?
Of course, speaking to strangers on that which most of the Western world categorizes as private information — for some, arguably just a notch below medical records — is another issue entirely, but if the subject rouses you, should you not feel free to speak out?
This rhetorical question is something I imagine many politicos face, particularly as education and politics so often collide — and most people who share this characteristic love an open invitation to teach others. Unfortunately, this is not always or even often taken well by the recipient of said education.
The overarching question here is how to properly articulate personal views and convictions, or even real policy, without offending and also without exiting a verbal exchange feeling disingenuous to oneself for behaving so obligingly.
If you have dealt with that dilemma, rest assured, you are not the first. Better yet, there is a solution. The downside is that the solution is no simple feat.
I will cut right to it: the best means of communication, especially as it relates to politics, is compassionate diplomacy.
Compassionate diplomacy is not detaching so far from the subject matter that one forgets to drive thinking with passion, but, rather, understanding the nature and existence of the human experience and respecting differences — even if they are highly offensive and so off-base that they cause physical repulsion.
The difficulty is in keeping cool and remembering that a person’s politics are based on that person’s unique, one-of-a-kind journey in navigating this crazy world. For me, a major component of remaining compassionate is reminding oneself that each human on this planet lives a life as dynamic as my own. The brains will operate differently and the experiences will most certainly vary, but dehumanizing another person is possibly the greatest deterrent to diplomacy.
The bottom line is that you do not need to like a person, but, in order to effectively communicate — and even potentially change a mind — should you choose to do so, it is imperative to give the recipient of your thoughts a basic level of respect.
In disagreement, remain firm where your red line stands, but communicate those non-negotiable zones in an accessible manner. There are a number of methods for doing so. To name two, presenting rhetorical questions or very directly explaining why the view is inflexible tend to give explanation without emotion. It is important to follow up with some understanding. For example, “I believe this; however, I can see why you might feel this other way, though I disagree.”
Certainly, it is easier to dismiss unpalatable views and, as humans, we may reserve the right to do so or to discontinue a discussion at any point in time. Nevertheless, this exercise is about conversing with others on the very personal subject of politics. In addition to potentially effecting change in someone’s thinking — strangers or even friends and family — this is also a highly transferable skill, so it is at the very least worth attempting.
Remember, diplomacy is not reserved for diplomats. We all need a bit of statesmanship. Practice, tell others, and watch the world around you operate more smoothly.
Stephanie Casella is a thinker and writer who takes an interest in everything political. She has written on politics, news, culture, feminism, food, and lifestyle for Bustle and Thought Catalog, and is currently working on a range of pieces for well-known venues across the web.