This election season has exposed the binary nature of American politics. Whether you attribute the divsion to biased news content or the polarizing platforms of the two major parties, the conflict of political agendas is clear. This disparity between ideologies can often turn politics into a taboo conversational topic.
On the contrary, my dad and I love to talk about politics. He leans right and I lean left. We disagree to varying degrees about almost every issue. How, you might ask, can we maintain discussions about controversial issues and not end up frustrated, upset or angry? How can we do this in such a way that we are able to continue to engage in this type of discourse pretty much every time we talk and even look forward to it?
Throughout our conversations, there are three things we always keep in the back of our minds to facilitate positive, meaningful political discourse.
1. Don’t take it personally.
The presidential debates serve as a perfect example of what not to do when talking politics with someone who disagrees with you. A famous manifestation of this took place in the last of three debates when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton suggested that Donald Trump would be a puppet to Vladamir Putin. To this claim, he interrupted her by repeating, “No, you’re the puppet!” and used the term in a much more personal, less political context.
One of the reasons my dad and I are so successful at having meaningful and thought-provoking conversations is I know he is disagreeing on a basis of the idea and not in an attempt to spite me or play devil’s advocate. For successful discussion, you can’t take things the other person says personally or turn your own argument into ad hominid fallacies.
2. Don’t assume you’re right.
You have to be willing to learn from the other person. A lot of the time, big ideologically controversial issues seem one sided to me. A Social Justice Research report titled “When Morality Opposes Justice: Conservatives Have Moral Intuitions that Liberals may not Recognize” suggests that Liberals and Conservatives consider different basis for morality.
“There are five psychological foundations of morality, which we label as harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity,” the article reports. “As a first approximation, political liberals value virtues based on the first two foundations, while political conservatives value virtues based on all five.”
That said, the entire moral foundation for liberals is only 40 percent of a Conservative foundation for morals, often leading to disparity in ideology. While liberals might value the other 60 percent of conservative moral basis, they might not categorize them as moral arguments. This study opened my eyes to be able to really listen and consider the differing foundations my dad may consider in moral judgements.
If the sole purpose of your political debate is to prove the other person wrong, there is really no room for growth on either side. The point of conversation like this should be to learn more about the other side and either switch, alter or confirm your own view.
3. Know when to stop.
Not all political conversations between my dad and I have ended in smiles and mutual understanding. Over the years, we have learned the art of knowing when to stop. There are some things we will never agree on. When we find ourselves getting into endless circles and repetition of points, we usually stop the conversation there, before things begin to break the first rule of political discussion.
Although my dad and I don’t agree on everything, we are still able to have meaningful conversations, grow in our personal ideologies and check our perception of the world. Every week, he’ll send me a controversial article for us to debate the next time we talk on the phone. This presidential election cycle disappointed as far as maintaining professional, useful political discourse, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the population has to label politics a taboo subject.