When I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts, I went to school with a girl named Emma. Emma was in my class, I saw her every day, and although we weren’t best friends, we knew each other pretty well.
At one point, after years of dating each other’s friends and being in the same classes, I found out Emma went to Catholic Mass every day before school. You could even say she was a “hardcore” Catholic. The funny thing was, I don’t think we ever talked about religion in our seven years of school together.
That was the case for almost everyone I grew up with. I didn’t know their religion and I didn’t know what politician their parents voted for, because it wasn’t that important. On some level, we knew that talking about how much we hated the Yankees was going to be much better for bonding and liking each other.
Today, everyone talks about politics, and everything has become political. In fact, thanks to Facebook, I now see my old friends from high school and college talking about politics, and it actually feels strange. It’s like getting to know a completely different person, and in almost all cases, I prefer the person I knew before I saw their social media profile (and I imagine they feel the same way about me).
A significant portion of the things my parents send me are political. Even talking about what’s happening in the world often turns political, because we can hold up current events as confirmation that we’ve been right “all along”.
Have you seen the Russia/Ukraine conflict? I knew Biden was too soft on Putin.
Did you see the latest COVID numbers? Obviously the vaccine should be mandatory.
Social media has been completely taken over by politics. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are engineered to maximize engagement, so they don’t just provide a place for divisive politics, they actually push us in that direction. We pressure each other into weighing in on the latest outrage trend, as if all of us were the mayor of a city whose opinion needed to be heard by their constituents. Even not engaging now has a “side”.
You don’t care about Black Lives Matter? Must be because you’re racist.
You aren’t concerned about China? You’re just a liberal apologist.
Some people think that the problem is that we can’t have good conversations. If only we could be like Sam Harris, and sit down with the “other side” and listen instead of preach, then our problems could get solved. That kind of “we disagree, but let’s talk” show format has even become popular lately, and for good reason — it’s a step in the right direction. And yet, I’d like to propose something even more radical.
We need to quit talking so much about politics.
We don’t need to talk in a more “enlightened” way, or in a way that “sees both sides”, we just need to stop. Or at least, drastically reduce the amount of time we spend talking politics.
Talk about anything else — sports, the weather, your relationships, the latest book you read, gossip about that guy at work, bands you love, your hobbies, etc… but try and avoid bringing up religious beliefs or divisive political issues. Our relationships are suffering because we forget how divisive these conversations can be.
When disagreements come up, you can remember the fact that you both love Game of Thrones and draw on that for common ground, instead of listing out in your head all the things you disagree about from the last election.
We need to see talking about politics as a withdrawal to our relational health. I sometimes think about my relationships in terms of having emotional bank accounts, and my actions either make deposits or withdrawals. Doing things we both enjoy is usually a deposit. Having a difficult conversation about something I want that person to change, often a withdrawal. If I’m not monitoring the amount of money in that account, I may bounce a check, and try and make a withdrawal when there’s no money left.
Intimacy and Agreement
Talking politics is often a withdrawal. It doesn’t bring us closer together. At the end of the day, even if two people are on the “same side”, there are issues they will disagree about, and with enough digging they will eventually come to the surface. How often have we seen people who identify with the same political group be horrible to each other because they disagree on one small issue (while agreeing on 99% of everything else)?
We’re searching for intimacy through agreement, and that isn’t a good strategy. Consider the people in your life that you feel closest to — the ones that make you feel warm and filled up after time spent with them. Why do you like them? My experience has been that what has me feel close to someone is not how well we align politically, but more about shared life experiences. The simple joys of cooking together, watching each other grow and stumble, showing them your messy side, and seeing theirs. This is how we build intimacy, not through “agreement”.
I find that one of the reasons I like exploring the political spectrum and being able to see things from multiple points of view, isn’t that I want to be “well informed” or even a “good citizen”, it’s that if people need me to agree with them for us to feel close, I can do that.
You like Trump and think he is good for America?
I can agree with that.
You think Trump is the worst example of a human our race has ever produced?
Yes! I can get behind that idea.
You think the COVID vaccine is completely overblown and we should all just get COVID and either die or get on with our lives?
I can agree with you.
You think radically isolating yourself from the world for years to prevent the spread of COVID is the right thing to do? I agree. I think that perspective is valid.
I can go to any rally and get along, I can go to any church and feel something sacred, I can read any think piece and see some truth in it.
I have friends on all ends of the political spectrum, and they all send me articles they think I’d like, because it reflects the conversation where I was positively engaging with their point of view. I’m not being dishonest with them, I’m just prioritizing intimacy and connection over ramming my opinion down someone’s throat.1 I don’t give a shit about the opioid crisis, but I do want to smoke a joint with friends — and I don’t think that makes me a bad person.
I know talking about politics can be seductive — I’m just as guilty as the next person of getting sucked in and thinking “oh my gosh, I need to change this person’s view… the world depends on it!” And yet, we know from life experience that the best way to change someone’s view is to build rapport with them and not come at them with all your “evidence” why they’re wrong and need to immediately repent. That’s the funny thing about all our political jibber-jabber, we think we’re doing it because it’s “necessary” for change to happen, but how well is it working?
Do we need more debates or more fishing trips? Do we more Tucker Carlson or more live music? Do we need more hashtags or more time in nature?
I know these things seem mutually exclusive, but our time and attention is limited, and when we go for our daily politics/news “fix”, it’s not just time we could have been spending elsewhere, it hijacks our creative mind. Instead of planting a garden or writing a new song, we’re stuck brainstorming ways to fix the economy — and for 99.9% of us that is a big old fat waste of time.
There is a world without politics, and many of us (including myself) need to be reminded of it’s virtue. When we prioritize relationships over political views, not only will we be happier, but when it comes time to discuss important issues we will be able to do that from a foundation of love and trust.
P.S. It also needs to be said that disconnecting from politics is almost impossible if you still use social media a lot. I wrote A Practical Guide to Taking Back Your Power From Social Media Companies (Without Deleting It) to show how I’ve made social media a “one way” platform and completely eliminated my news feed (I did it 5 years ago and I’ve never looked back). It’s drastically reduced my intake of news/political BS.