Thursday, April 5, 2012

Talking Politics to Worshippers of the State (Part 1)

There have been several occasions in my lifetime when I have found myself in the presence of some red faced, very angry person yelling at me about some political issue or another. Indeed, there was a time in my life where I might have become just as red faced and yelled back. In fact, such an occurrence could possibly happen today if I was to be caught off guard or in some emotional moment when such a conversation comes up. Let's face it, people just get real emotional when it comes to politics. They get these ideas in their heads and they're so enamored by them that it becomes inconceivable that someone else could have a different view on things. Some people even become zealots about their politics, just like some do about religions.

When discussing politics, I feel it is important to have an idea about what you are trying to accomplish. Many people who engage in such a conversation will be mulling things over in their heads trying to find some kind of logic in the actions of politicians. This can be an exercise in futility, but people do like to think that those entrusted with public office are somehow looking out for the best interests of everyone they are supposed to represent. So, if you are like me, you are trying to win a heart and mind if you strike up a conversation or engage yourself in such an activity. When someone asks a question or offers his opinion, it becomes an opportunity to get that person to think about freedom.

So, with this in mind, that you are trying to convince someone of the validity of your point of view, there are a few rules I think everyone should follow. First and foremost, be respectful! Remember that it's not mere politics your talking about, it's someone's deep belief, it's as strong as a religion and when you point out flaws in the system it seems to people with these deeply held beliefs that you are attacking their very essence. Since they were young they've been taught in government schools that they should look to government for the answers to society's woes. To say otherwise to them is blasphemy. It's sacrilege. The way to open the door to their mind is to be respectful of their beliefs. If you in any way, shape or form express disrespect for that point of view, they will slam the door shut and enter defensive mode.

So often I hear a conversation such as this:
"I think so and so should do such and such to solve this issue."
To which there is this response:
"That's stupid! So and so is a blah blah and whomever should do this and that."

That really is no way to start a conversation. One person just called the other's idea stupid. It may well be stupid, but to put it so bluntly may be injurious to the other and create a situation where he closes his mind to the other's ideas. Besides, the second speaker in the above example doesn't know how stupid his idea is going to sound to the first. In fact the whole conversation can quickly evolve into a "You're stupid," "No, you're stupid" situation. Nothing has been accomplished except that two people have fomented anger against each other, perhaps put a wedge in a friendship, and created an environment for hatred to flourish. There are those who would claim this is what the political elite want, that it is an important part of their divide and conquer strategy, and perhaps those people are right.

This brings me to the second rule I would like to discuss, avoid name calling at all costs. Nothing turns off a mind faster than name calling. Nothing is more counter productive. If you want to call my ideas crazy, I don't want to talk to you anymore. I you want to call me crazy, I don't even want to see you anymore. I certainly don't want to hear your ideas. I certainly don't want to consider anything you have to say as legitimate. My mindset is going to be turned to an "I'll show you who's crazy" attitude. Even if you have proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that your point of view is correct, or the truth, or whatever, I'm going to be loathe to ever admit that, at least publicly, because your name calling has created in me a certain dislike toward you.

Name calling will only serve to cut you off from potential allies. If you think about it, just because someone's ideas on one issue might seem crazy or stupid to you, doesn't mean you disagree on all issues. It is said that politics make strange bedfellows and that's because sometimes even the most opposite of people find some issue that they can agree upon. I realize that it is often hard to show respect for an idea you have utter contempt for. I know that sometimes it is difficult to hold one's tongue when someone strikes one as an idiot. God knows I don't expect everyone to go out there and keep every political conversation civil. Politics, by its very nature, is emotional, not reasonable. It is important, however, in my humble opinion, to try to remain civil.

Perhaps some kind of approach like this could work:
"I think so and so should do such and such to solve this issue."
To which one responds:
"Well, that's an interesting idea, but have you ever thought about it this way..,"
Or, "I see where you're coming from, but here's another angle to consider..,"

A third rule to consider is don't be condescending. This is perhaps the most difficult behavior to overcome. It is something that I've been accused of and a character flaw I need to address. No one likes a know it all. No one likes to be made a fool of. Sarcasm can be funny, but it can also be hurtful. I know many of you might be thinking "But you use sarcasm and a condescending tone often in your writings," and you'd be right. When I do so in my writings, however, the target is usually someone who has put themselves out there to public scrutiny or even someone who is not named. This is quite different from a public display where one might be verbally defending himself. It is very likely that someone who is so enamored with the statist point of view that he would write or blog about it will never change his point of view. In a verbal discussion, particularly in a public venue, the last thing one wants to do is create an enemy who is dug in to defend his point of view.

I realize it can be difficult to change one's approach to political discourse. God knows I was so poor at doing so that I turned to writing in an effort to avoid a verbal exchange. Still, with practice and a little bit of information at your fingertips, it is not that difficult to keep political conversations just that, conversations, instead of having them devolve into shouting matches. I suppose it can be summed up in two words, be courteous. At least do your best to remain courteous. Try not to insult others, and try to be empathetic.
Try to be the bigger man (or woman). If a person is so emotionally attached to his political beliefs that he resorts to name calling and screaming, just bite your tongue and walk away. You are the adult, he is the childish bully. Give up on that person and any others who may have witnessed that exchange will likely respect you more for it.

I know that for some of you this may sound like common sense. In fact, this may be good advice not only when talking about politics, but when conversing with anyone about anything. The point is, often times these practices are already taken into consideration when discussing other facets of life, but they are somehow forgotten when talking politics. That is why one should remember these basic manners when the subject comes up. It also helps if you already know who has a proclivity to become loud and boisterous so that person can be avoided. If you're lucky, everyone else will also avoid them when politics are discussed and they will get the hint. You, on the other hand, should want to nurture a reputation of being one who listens and offers sensible alternative views when it comes to political discourse.

As I said earlier, people who worship the state will always look to the political class to solve problems, even their own personal problems. This is due to how they've been programmed by many influences we've all grown up with. These influences are subtle and quite pervasive in every day life. This makes it even more difficult to change the hearts and minds that are needed to get the numbers to help create a voluntary society. The few of us who have been able to shake the programming and see the tyranny need to be respectable and likeable in order to become an influence in another's life to juxtapose against the more harmful statist influences.

In a movie I recently saw called "The Hunger Games" one of the characters tells another that in order to survive she needs to get people to like her. There is wisdom in that advice. The more people who like you, the more likely they are to adopt at least some of your ideas. These ideas do, however, need to make sense to them. Now that I've outlined a few behaviors that will get them to actually listen to your point of view, I'd like to point out a few general stances that can be made to support the freedom point of view. I will write about those in part 2.

This was by no means meant to be an all inclusive list, but what I felt were some of the most important things to keep in mind. My hope is that it may help us all achieve a more peaceful society through civil discourse.

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