During this incredibly polarizing time in American politics, I frequently hear my friends say that they could never be friends with someone with the opposite set of political beliefs. I can relate to this sentiment because I know I used to say this; I thought I was right and everyone else with a different set of political beliefs was wrong. Then I became friends with someone who had a completely different political position than myself. We fought tirelessly about who was right and who was wrong in the beginning of our friendship, as we are both fairly stubborn and opinionated. However, it actually became quite exhausting trying to prove that they were wrong all of the time. It was when I stopped trying to change their mind to prove why I was right, that I not only saved our friendship, but I also grew as a person. This is because when I truly listened to what they had to say, that finally enabled me to have a civil political discussion and understand where they were coming from.
This list of do’s and don’ts is for every other strong-willed, opinionated and stubborn person who is trying to figure out how to productively discuss politics with a friend who subscribes to a different political ideology than yourself.
Don’t stereotype them.
This is one of the absolute worst things a person can do. It is important to know that not every republican has the same exact beliefs and the same goes for democrats. A person’s political beliefs are shaped by their life experiences and everyone’s life experiences are different.
Don’t assume that you are right.
In politics, there is no right or wrong; there are simply multiple ways to look at an issue. When you and your friend are talking about politics, it is important to keep that in mind because you can have a much more productive conversation if you are not constantly trying to prove why your opinion is right.
Don’t tell them that they are wrong.
Never, ever tell someone that what they believe is wrong. Their views may very well be inconsiderate or closed-minded, but telling them that they are wrong is not going to help your friendship. It will just make them angry. Instead, maybe point out any holes in their argument to help them see why you feel that their beliefs are detrimental to others.
Don't validate people's opinions if they invalidate other people's lives.
In this world, there are going to be people who hold beliefs that invalidate other people's lives, whether that means that they think someone simply chooses their sexual orientation or assume that all transgender people want/need to transition. When you hear a person spew that sort of senseless rhetoric, do not feel like you have to demonstrate support of their beliefs. Hate is hate and we do not need any more of it. Do the world a favor, and do not validate their hate simply because they are a friend. Their words will most definitely cause other people pain, even if you are not one of those people directly affected by what they say.
Do listen to what they are saying.
It is crucial to truly listen to what your friend is saying. Don’t interrupt them or talk over them; you would not want them to do that to you. Listening is key to understanding why they believe what they believe. My mom always says that the biggest communication problem people have is that they do not listen to understand but to reply.
Do try to put yourself in their shoes.
As I said earlier, one’s political beliefs are shaped by their life experiences. Put yourself in your friend’s shoes and ask yourself if you too would have those same beliefs if you lived their life. For example, if your friend’s family relied on welfare or some other social program similar to that during their childhood, would it not make sense that they support the idea of the government providing social programs for its people?
Do keep in mind that you do not disagree on everything.
While there may be many topics you and your friend disagree on, I promise that there are also some topics you agree on as well. Actually, there are probably more that agree on than you think. This was the case in my friendship and there was no way we would have come to that conclusion without using active listening skills or empathizing with the other person’s life situation. Once you find the topics you agree on, talking politics becomes SO much easier because you have a base in which you can build upon.
Do set boundaries of what you are willing to talk about.
If you know that there are certain political topics that only cause you two to fight, spare yourself the trouble and do not bring them up. Do not bring them up to simply antagonize them either because that is not what good friends do. It is perfectly OK to set parameters about what you and your friend can discuss if you know it will help your friendship.
Do remember that there is more to a friendship than political discourse.
Someone’s political beliefs are simply a slice of who they are as a person; there is more to them than what party they are registered with. The way they comfort you when you have had a bad day or the listening ear they provide when you need to talk are all important to a successful friendship. Their political beliefs do not have to align with yours in order to provide that comfort or listening ear.
Remember these tips next time you engage in a political discussion with a friend or foe!
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