Twenty-Three Ways Of Saying “Let’s Not Talk About Politics Right Now” (& Twenty Questions To Maybe Ask The People You Love Instead)

I got to be on the radio last week, talking about Love & Politics & is it possible to date across political divides.  My segment starts about 35 min in if you’re curious.

Two questions I think about a lot (A LOT)(Really, honestly, so much):  When we say “Oh, let’s not talk about politics right now” or channel my Grandma Louise (“We have a secret ballot for a reason, and we can all keep our secrets at my table for one day!”) what are we really (not) saying? (And is this a question about manners or about morals?)

Some of the things I’ve probably meant when I’ve said “Oh, let’s not talk about politics right now:”

  1.  “I am unhealthily glued to the news the way everyone is, but this is my fun time and I need a break. Help!”
  2. “[Objectionable Politician] takes up enough of my headspace, s/he doesn’t get to have this time, too.” 
  3. “We generally agree about politics but the way you talk about it is exhausting/annoying/draining and I’d rather not spend my free time this way.”
  4. “We generally agree about politics but I know that once I get started I can’t stop and I don’t want to annoy the heck out of everyone.” 
  5. “Talking about politics isn’t the same thing as doing politics, I only have energy for one of those things.” 
  6. “I can’t spend my whole life obsessing about the election of one person when there is so much else that urgently needs attention.” 
  7. “I am the host of this thing and I do not want to spend the whole event as a referee.” 
  8. “If we avoid talking about politics maybe we can get thru this without anyone doing a racism.” 
  9. “I think I know what your politics are, but we’ve never confirmed them out loud and I’m afraid that if we do it will change how I feel about you.” 
  10. “You assume I agree with you and if you find out for sure that I don’t, our relationship will fracture.” 
  11. “I’m afraid that if I say what I believe politically or who I’m voting for, it’s like painting a big ‘come abuse me’ target on myself.” 
  12. “I’m afraid of finding out that you don’t think people like me are important or even fully human.” 
  13. “If we talk about politics, there is a 100% chance that we will argue.” 
  14. “You and I don’t have the kind of relationship where I can count on mutual respect and real discussion from the heart about contentious subjects, it’s better to not even try to engage.” 
  15. “We would have to spend 90% of the conversation on fact-checking and countering disinformation and propaganda and I fear you are too far gone.” 
  16. “If I want to hear white supremacist, xenophobic, and authoritarian talking points repeated, I’ll just turn on Fox News – talking politics with you is just recycled bigotry.” 
  17. “Growing up we didn’t talk about this with each other and we have no track record or road map for these conversations, it feels too late and too risky to start now.” 
  18. “I’m afraid that if I get it wrong I’ll push you away.” 
  19. “We see the world so differently, I don’t know where to start.” 
  20. “I’m not that interested in or knowledgable about politics and the whole topic makes me feel stressed out and ignorant.” 
  21. “I’m afraid that talking about politics with each other will shatter the pretenses that we are on the same side of important things.”  
  22. “I despair of every convincing you to see my point of view and I do not want to subject myself to yours.” 
  23. “I’m already so angry and upset, why invite more trouble?”

When you make an agreement to not talk about politics today/just now/with certain people what do you think you and the other person are *really* saying? Is it one of these or is it something else?

Do you think there’s a way to change that – not in the media landscape necessarily – but with the people we love and want to be close to?

Is what is broken between us about how we talk or more about how we (fail to) listen?

Imagine a world where you get to have one honest, constructive conversation with someone close to you who you’ve been afraid to or reluctant to talk about politics with in the past. Ground Rules: No interrupting each other, no name-calling, no whataboutism (“but your side is just as bad!”), maybe even no mentioning of specific politicians, parties, or personalities. I have this fantasy where there’s something like StoryCorps, with a chess clock giving each person equal time and a respectful back-and-forth and a list of questions like:

  1. What do you need from your government (at any level – national, state, local) in order to be safe and well?
  2. What would need to happen (politically, financially) so that you can always get what you need to be safe and well?
  3. If you were the supreme leader in charge of everything and knew for sure we could do/have/pay for everything you think would make this country a good place to live, what kinds of things would you do?
  4. What’s a political policy (law, political decision) that has deeply affected your life?
  5. Can you think of any political decisions (policies, laws) that have made your life better?
  6. Can you think of a political leader from when you were growing up who you admire and who you think made a difference for the better? What did they do that made a difference?
  7. This is who I am thinking about and fighting for when I do things like protest, call my elected officials, advocate, and vote. If you do these things, what/who motivates you to be politically active?
  8. You say you’re “not particularly interested” in politics. Is there something that would convince you to get interested?
  9. What’s the first election you remember, from childhood? How did you feel about what was happening?
  10. What’s one thing about politics that makes you afraid for the future?
  11. What’s one thing about politics that makes you hopeful for the future?
  12. This is one thing I wish I knew about you. What do you wish you knew about me?
  13. Where do you go to be informed about politics?
  14. Is there anybody you like talking about politics with even though you disagree? What makes that enjoyable?
  15. Is there somebody in the media you think speaks about politics with a lot of knowledge and integrity?
  16. If you could assign me one thing to read or watch to better understand how you feel about politics, what would it be? Would you read or watch one thing I recommended?
  17. This is one area where I’ve really changed my mind from how I used to think, and this is why I changed my mind. Is there something that made you change your mind?
  18. This is something I learned from you about how politics work in the world. Is there something you learned from me?
  19. What did your parents/elders teach you about politics? If you could hand one thing down to your children about how politics work, what would it be?
  20. This is something I love and admire about you and always will no matter what. Is there something like that you could share with me?

If you could ask someone you loved but who you felt pretty sure disagreed with you politically exactly three questions and listen to the answers without interrupting, what would they be?

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