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Tips on Talking Politics with Friends

by Zara Rawoof

A parent sitting their child down for important conversations is a universal experience. These momentous discussions are structured in a manner that attempts to enrich a child’s mind as one begins to grow up and understand the reality of the world. I can recall many of the topics that centered around talks like these, and the discussion my mother and father had with me at age 7 is no exception. Sitting outside on our porch one Saturday morning, I was instructed on etiquette in conversation. I was told to avoid saying “like” too much and to maintain eye contact. Most importantly, it was that day that I learned what topics were to never be approached. It is strictly off-limits to inquire about one’s age, religion, or political beliefs. As an elementary school student, the last two weren’t exactly difficult to keep quiet about. But as I got older, I was shocked at how much those topics that I was told not to speak on were discussed daily by my peers. Eventually, I was often a big part of these conversations. Because I grew up believing that politics were off the table, I was never informed on how to properly approach the subject. It was only through my own experience that I learned the right ways to handle myself in these types of situations.

As a child, watching what you say in front of your friends is a rarity. That’s why during elections in the early years of my life, everyone I knew in school was honest about who they liked and who they didn’t. There were no consequences to these discussions that were had by elementary school kids. As I got older and became more informed, these weren’t just passing opinions on mundane and unimportant events. The more I learned about candidates I liked and didn’t, the more trouble I had grasping why my peers supported an opposing side. It often enraged me, with fiery emotions taking charge of the conversations that I had. It’s easy to get carried away when you feel like the person you are talking to is against everything you stand for, everything you are. But it’s just as easy to get defensive and retaliate in these instances. This discourse has moved onto social media platforms as well, making insults easier when there is no risk of an in-person brawl starting. But with the privilege of texting or commenting comes the disadvantage of not being listened to. Every tweet is dissected and turned into an argument against you. No one is ever heard. This online culture is relatively new, but still, the habit of one-sided conversations has been carried out into the real world. Talking politics is inevitable, and we should all be armed with the proper techniques to approach these conversations.

When finding yourself in these types of situations, it’s important to always have your values at the forefront of your mind. Your core beliefs cannot be swayed. No matter what happens in this discussion, never let anyone misrepresent what you stand for. Some of what you express might be used against you or misconstrued by another party, but never forget what you truly meant by what you said. It’s equally as important to not twist someone else’s words, as it’s unproductive and only incites a defensive way of speaking.

As a Muslim woman of color, I often find that the hopeless faces of tragedy in the news look like mine. There’s a certain connection I feel towards another person of color or follower of Islam. Because of this, political topics that disproportionately target an audience that I could easily be part of seem personal. When these topics approach conversations between me and someone with different beliefs, I start to view their political ideations as attacks against me. Every word seems to cut at my soul rather than my logic. A person in my position has every right to feel angry and insulted. It’s important to keep in mind that the individual who has become a sparring partner is often not intentionally opposing you with their beliefs. In my experience, my conversations are much more productive when I attempt to explain why I feel personally attacked by someone’s political views rather than acting on the hurt in my heart and creating a volatile environment. Doing so might help to keep the conversation respectful and that tends to lead to more understanding.

On the other hand, it is crucial to end the conversation when there are direct and personal attacks against you. It’s tempting to incite a fiery conversation when it feels like someone is coming for you.t In the end, it’s only time-consuming and negative. When someone is trying to belittle you, there is no reason why you should continue to stick around. There are some with a genuine interest in intellectual discourse, but many people prefer insulting someone with different opinions.

I was taught to avoid politics when the political climate was an entirely different turf. As conversational do’s and don’ts have evolved, so has my parents’ advice. Now I’m told to always try and see the other side, which can often seem harder than trying to avoid political discussion. I listened to their advice for years, but this time around I know to back out when opinions are just too different. Sometimes there isn’t a point in seeing the other side, and when this happens there is no use in discussing it. The landscape of talking politics is often frustrating, but knowing how to properly navigate these discussions can lead to an insightful experience as you try to understand another person.

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