Don’t get personal. Insults are a wedge in the ever-widening divide among us. We are not one-dimensional beings. Have I been guilty of hurtful language in the past? Yes. But now I realize I can voice my opinions and stay polite. Recently, we stayed with folks who have polar opposite political beliefs from our own. It can be done.
It doesn’t require avoidance. Being polite is not a lack of conviction. Civility doesn’t equate to weakness. A conversation becomes insightful if it is not peppered with words like “ignorant,” “ridiculous,” or “crazy.” Even general words like Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives are spit out with ridicule. Watch the tone.
No one has ever achieved understanding through shame, guilt or insults.
Can’t accept a position? Roger that. But acceptance of one’s humanity is easier. When my husband and I stayed with friends who hail from the other end of the political spectrum, I was a teensy bit worried about how things might play out.
Our friends are good people, just like we are. Yet, nowadays, it would be typical to point at each other and insist, “You are sadly misinformed.”
When the conversation turned to politics, “Jan” first bemoaned family division. “We have relatives who no longer speak to each other. It’s so sad.”
I’ve heard this from other circles. Friends who are now no longer friends. Parents and siblings who disown each other, each side insisting they cannot associate “with anyone who thinks like that.”
It’s one-dimensional thinking. Lives now mimic Facebook feeds, where algorithms send only the version of news FB thinks a user wants to see. The difference is Facebook manipulates this for you. In comparison, we choose to delete real relationships because of differences of opinion. Why? Do we all have to march in one-thought-lockstep?
While visiting, I was mindful of the foundation of our friendship: Shared memories and experiences, a mutual trust. This respect allowed us to voice very different opinions. Nothing was held back except for name-calling and insults, with sarcasm held in check. We never got personal.
Each of us used language key to conflict management. Speak from the authentic place of “I think” or “I feel.” Do not use phrases like “you think,” “you are,” (or the ever-offensive, “you people”), which can sound accusatory or presumptive.
Keep it personal without getting personal with others.
Our visit went well, exceptionally so. Were there tense moments? Sure. When discussing a point of history, our friend said, “I don’t believe that,” and I blurted out, “Wait. You think the Pentagon Papers was a hoax?” He replied, “Well, I guess I don’t know too much about it.”
I so respect that. It would have been a difficult admission had the insults been flying.
Do you get angry and personal in your political conversations? Stop. Hold close family and friends of every stripe. Don’t reduce your life to an algorithm.
Suzette Martinez Standring can be reached at at email@example.com.