You hear it all the time – when you’re gathering with family for the holidays, going on a first date, getting a drink with colleagues – it’s best to avoid discussions of politics and religion. On a grander scheme this means; don’t talk about things that make people uncomfortable. So how do we avoid it? Can we avoid it? Should we avoid it? And with everything being related to some social media outlet or another these days, how much should we emotionally invest in discourse with strangers over uncomfortable subjects?
I challenge you to “bring it”. It’s hard, it’s frightening, it can even make you feel like you’re losing brain cells. But what’s the alternative? That nobody’s opinions ever be challenged? That people are no longer asked to grow and change? To evolve?
Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe that a simple online “conversation” or talking with a relative over a beautiful holiday meal is going to be a life-altering event for most people, most of the time. People don’t like change, especially if we are asking people to change their set belief system, which is something that has grown and developed with them since birth. But maybe it’s time to adjust our approach. Maybe the white girl bringing home her new Asian/African/insert-your-minority-of-choice-here boyfriend doesn’t have to change the minds and hearts of her aging grandparents who still believe that mixing races is a bad thing. Maybe the homosexual young man introducing his partner to his work colleagues doesn’t have to convince the Christians in the group that there’s nothing wrong with his “lifestyle”. Maybe it’s time to look to the fringes. The people “on the fence”. The kids in the room looking for role models.
If we are to take that approach, maybe we can have some positive impact. As a parent, I believe in the next generation. I believe it’s our chance to make things right for this country and this world because, thankfully, kids are flexible. And as someone who identifies as a tree-hugging hippie bleeding heart liberal, I know my strong opinions are easily met by others with strong (opposing) opinions and that those people are not as willing to truly hear what I’m saying. But what about the people around you? Maybe people listening to your debate are undecided and hearing the two sides of the argument is educational for them. Maybe it makes them want to learn more, to find information for themselves, to think critically and reach their own conclusions.
It’s easier to become mad and defensive and to shut down. It’s easier to see a friend or family member’s online post that is in direct opposition to your views as a personal attack and a reason to remove them from your “friend” list. It’s easier to shake your head angrily, remind yourself why you never bother talking to them about such things, and let it bother you for hours or days on end. Perhaps, instead, we can see it as an opportunity to share. To share our experiences, information we’ve gathered, or to link those people with other people who are better equipped to have the conversation. And if you can’t impact the person you’re speaking with, look to the fringes. Who is watching? Can you calmly and intelligently voice your opinion in a way that leaves them wanting more? Can you spark that desire to learn, decide, and then become another advocate for your cause?
Because you know who can? The “alt-right”, the Neo-Nazis, the terrorists. Of course, there is a different motivation for feeding impressionable minds with bits of hate to convert them to a specific cause. But can’t those of us who preach love and peace and unity learn something from this? Shouldn’t we be recognizing opportunities to feed those minds with bits of love, acceptance and respect? Shouldn’t we be setting an example by volunteering, showing up to vote, getting involved in local politics, attending worship services that invite spirituality and equality, becoming a foster parent, joining the armed forces to protect American freedoms for all, and a whole host of other vital ways to better spend our time?
In the digital age, all we want to do is surf the internet, post an article on social media that has not been fact-checked (but goes along with our belief system, so it must be right), and then argue about it with friends, family and perfect strangers. I challenge you to “bring it”. Find a news source that is at least a little bit impartial, do your own extensive research to learn about issues that intrigue you, share that information in a way that is meaningful and impactful, and then actually do something about it.
So how to avoid politics and religion? You can’t. They are the building blocks of civilization, for better or for worse. However, you can change the way you approach these and other uncomfortable subjects, which in turn may inspire others to change as well. And if we can do that, we’ve already taken the next step to enlightenment and a true connection with our fellow man.