If you ask most people, they will say that religion and politics are the two things you should never talk about with family or business associates.  Those two topics are just too divisive – it’s too risky to even talk about them.

Is this really a good cultural norm?  Not being able to discuss things with people close to us?

It’s true that these issues are divisive, but doesn’t that mean it’s more important to discuss them with people we care about so we can all progress our thinking?

No wonder we’re so vulnerable to online political trolls influencing our thinking and polarizing our country – if we have no practice dealing with these conversations in real life, how are we supposed to deal with them online?

Despite the norm, I make a point to try to talk about politics with people who are on the other side of the aisle quite often – especially family members.  Funny thing is: the more I listen to what other people have to say, the more I typically realize that our ideology is far more similar than different.

I think the biggest problem here is not the issues themselves but it’s the way we talk about the issues and also the way people on television talk about the issues.

Most political commentary on television amounts to political tribalism.  On any particular issue commentators first look to the view of their political party, blindly support that view and attack every other way of seeing the world.

If someone doesn’t agree with the view of a specific political party, people on TV have trained us to quickly turn to ad homonym attacks or slippery slope arguments – two of the biggest threats to a productive conversation.

I’m not fully against the system of political parties per se, I understand they can be helpful to drive compromise and get things done – what I don’t like is that everyone has to affiliate with a specific party.  I think it would actually be far better if people didn’t affiliate with political parties at all and individuals had the opportunity to critically evaluate the position of each party on each issue to see who most closely aligns with their values.

No gamesmanship, no political “teams”, just everyone working together to progress our democracy and do what we think is right.  Honestly, I think that would be the best defense against the influence of foreign governments on our political system.

Talking About Politics and Online Trolls
Tagged on:         
  • Bren Eifler

    I am with you. This is a wise approach, and honestly, I think this is closer to a solution to one of the root problems we have as a country than anything I have heard publicly. We need conversation rooted in goodwill.

    I can confirm this approach works, at least in personal conversations. Perhaps one of the most difficult things about actually implementing this on a large scale is the lack of body language and tone through online communication. Unless one is aware of how they come across, it’s easy to communicate the wrong thing. Real life conversation is full of micro-interactions that we can pick up on. We can see how someone is reacting mid sentence, and adjust the rest of the sentence accordingly. How do we anticipate it when online communication is such a monologue? And, for that matter, public speaking is also a monologue.

    Ultimately, this is about people practicing good interpersonal communication and not allowing fear to being to control them. Fear… Now there’s the true root of the problem. And the solution to fear? Love. Love the person we’re talking to and trust that underneath it all, they have good intentions. Respectfully communicate. Love the opposite party and try to see things from their point of view. Don’t be controlled by popular opinion, but maintain the high ground of excellent character.

  • A friend of mine once told me “you books relationships in person, you maintain them over the phone, and you destroy them with email”. Perhaps online forums go farther even as far as damage.

    Great points!