Monday, November 19, 2018

Sound advice: ‘Just don’t go there’

In the final “New Rule” for this year’s season of Real Time With Bill Maher, Bill urges us, with his typical “swear words”, to stop talking about politics. He’s right. If we want to end the partisan divide, especially in the USA, there’s an important first step: Shut up about politics.

This is not to say that people need to give up their principles—of course they don’t and shouldn’t. It also doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t answer questions they’re asked, though I personally think carefully worded and succinct answers are best for that.

What Bill is saying, and I agree with him, is that we should talk to each other as people, about the ordinary things that ordinary people have always talked about, things that DON’T involve politics. Those of us who want change can do far more to achieve our goal by avoiding politics than we can by shoving it in people’s faces. Same with people who don't want so much change. This gives us the chance to build personal common ground before we even think about finding political common ground.

This may sound counterintuitive, but it's something I have first-hand experience with: Opposition to the human rights of LGBT+ people, even homophobia, begins to fade when a person meets, gets to know, and actually likes or even loves a gay person. Slogans and angry demands have never won anyone over, but human interaction and connection has.

It’s the same with politics. If others see you as the Angry Progressive or the Angry Conservative, they will never connect with you. But if they get to know you as, say, the nice neighbour who’s always willing to help with a neighbourhood project, who loves their kids, and quite likes taking nature photos, then they can connect with you, the person. As they begin to like you, they’ll resist thinking of you as evil and insane, despite disagreeing on everything, and that’s the point where common ground becomes possible. Anger and aggression and scoring political points will never win over someone from the other side, but making your grandmother’s famous and much-loved casserole and bringing it to the neighbour’s winter potluck gives you an opening that slogans and shouting never will.

Then, if we can learn to not talk about politics all the time in real life, maybe we can learn to talk about it less online, too. We need to connect—human to human—if we’re ever going to find a way to end the bitter, toxic politics of the USA.

That, and a bit of kindness, may start to turn things around. We’ve tried the angry, confrontational route, and things have only become worse. We need to try something completely different to get something completely different.

We have nothing to lose.

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