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Oct 09 2017
by Caroline Mulvaney

How To Have a Civil Political Discussion on a College Campus

By Caroline Mulvaney - Oct 09 2017

In today's America there is very high tension surrounding the subject of politics. Policies and actions are being carried out that have an extreme effect on many people's lives, from healthcare to human rights to immigration, and passions and emotions can often run high when discussing such topics. It can be difficult to conduct a civil discussion when encountering someone who has an opposing view to your own. However, it is important that we remember to be courteous when discussing politics; it's for the best of our own personal reputation and the reputation of whatever party or points of view we are representing, and is necessary to create a conducive political environment that will bring about positive change in the world. 

1. We must always remember to be respectful of the person we are talking to. 

Dismissing or insulting their views ends up with you being the villain of the situation. Even though you may not agree with them, that doesn't mean you have to attack them. Instead, hear each other out on the reasoning behind each of your opinions and acknowledge that each person has the right to their own views. 

If the conversation does turn to personal insults or slurs, rise above it (and yes, it's extremely difficult to do). Remain calm, tell them how their words have been offensive to you or even just walk away. It can be just as satisfying to show them how useless their insults are as it would be to insult them back. As Katarina Watson (Georgetown '21) said, "Try to understand the other person's point of view and calmly explain why you agree/disagree."


2. Don't go into the conversation with preconceived notions or stereotypes about the person you're speaking to. 

This is how hostility forms in a discussion. It's extremely likely that the other person doesn't hold the most extreme views of their party and they might even agree with some of the opinions of the opposing party. That being said, if they do end up having the extreme views, refer to the previous piece of advice.

You're in college to learn about the world and gain a more well-rounded outlook on life, so see these discussions as an opportunity to do that. Ask the other person the reasoning behind their opinions, how they came upon that reasoning and even why they don't agree with your opinion. It's always a good thing to have knowledge about more point of view than just your own. 


3. Remember that the other person has the right to their own opinion. 

Even though you may be tempted to, don't turn the conversation into an attempt to change the other person's mind. This automatically draws a line between the two sides of the conversation. It can make things defensive, which creates unnecessary tension. Especially don't try to use information from "spoof" sites, or extremely biased sources, as that will just backfire on you. Lauren Alston, a freshman at Georgetown University, said, "Political discussions are important in order to be well informed and to confirm your own beliefs. Most of my friends and family are Democrats and while I disagree with their political views, I understand them and the Democratic Party much better and I'm better able to understand my own views and what it means to be a Republican." 

Image Credit: Unsplash

4. Try to agree on something, anything.

Finally, as we all should do even outside of politics, try to find common ground. There is most likely at least one political topic you can agree on, even if it's something as basic as "all people should have equal rights." This is a great way to turn the tone of the conversation to something more positive and open the door for a more productive conversation. 


We are the next generation of political leaders and participants. This means that we have to start practicing respectful, constructive political practices now so that we can translate them to the future of the world. 

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash

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Caroline Mulvaney - Georgetown University

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