Anyone who’s ever met me knows that I love a good
debate argument, so at first glance this post may seem more than a little ironic.
I’m happy to spend ages trying to convince someone that 3% really is better than Stranger Things, or that Rub’s food is so much better than Red’s, but when it comes to things that are fundamentally dividing, like religion or programming languages, I tend to be a lot less argumentative and judgemental.
This has never been truer than over the past few months, where Brexit and Trump have massively divided opinion. I was fairly vocal about Brexit; by Trump I was too disheartened.1
When you’re with a group of people who share the same opinion you can rant together. When you’re on the internet you can rant to your heart’s content with people you completely disagree with.
But what happens when you don’t share the same views as your relatives, or your coworkers, or other people you kind of have to get on with on a regular basis?
The first stage is the mixture of disappointment and disbelief when someone doesn’t share the same view on something really important. It’s the same look I get from people when I tell them I don’t believe in space.2 It’s the same reason Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman has terrible reviews.3
The important thing is to push through this stage. You can. It’s your choice.
As obvious as this statement is, it still has to be said: choosing to like someone as a person and choosing to like their political beliefs are two entirely separate things. I’ve met people whose political views are identical to mine and still had a (mutual) personality clash. I’ve also met people who couldn’t be more politically different and loved them. Obviously if you like or dislike everything about a person life is much simpler. Good luck finding that person and having one conversation with them before you get bored.4
There has been lots written about the impact of social media on politics, and how those arguments you have with total strangers on Facebook could in fact be a good thing, because they open up your world, expose you to people who aren’t part of your social circle, and make you think in different ways. (For a real eye opener, try joining Facebook groups that consist of extremely rich people discussing money (think jets and islands) or extremely poor people discussing money (think social benefits and money saving)). I think there’s a certain degree of open mindedness needed to really get anything out of this; it’s not about trying to force people to agree with you but to present a different perspective, and to appreciate where they’re coming from too. Sometimes just exploring other people’s worlds a bit is enough to get a foundation of tolerance and understanding.
Once you’ve got over the shock/grief/total disbelief that someone has a different opinion to you, it’s time to consider where you want to go from here and make some rules for yourself. For example, my rules tend to be based around tolerance and finding common ground. I may drop in occasional comments that skirt around the edges of a controversial topic, but they are usually fairly neutral in and of themselves. I prefer to bring up topics that make people happy or tell short anecdotes. Failing that I will opt for a topic (read: rant) where I’m reasonably confident they will agree with my opinion.5 I tend to only disagree if I believe something is factually incorrect, I feel someone is missing a fact that will influence their opinion, or I believe someone is being personally attacked in some way. You may want to be strong in your opinions and stick to what you believe in, or stay silent, or argue at every possible opportunity – it’s up to you. You need to pick the battles that are important.6
You know that mainstream media is out to manipulate. Whether it’s through shock factors, exaggerations, or downright lies, they’ll say whatever it takes to get eyeballs on screens and newspapers sold. There’s a certain comfort in digesting media which follows a similar political line to your own, but choosing slightly more neutral stories (centre-aligned political publications are better if there’s really nothing more neutral available) or digesting numerous sources in summary form (the general review of all the newspaper headlines, for example) can be an effective approach.
Ultimately, you win if you keep your temper: staying in control, not rising to any bait, being civil even when you don’t agree with someone’s opinion.
What tips do you have for getting on with people you don’t agree with?
- Read: one step away from literally putting my hands over my ears and going “la la la la”. ↩
- Trolling or not? You decide. ↩
- Never judge a book based on how much you like one character. You’re being manipulated into having an emotional reaction, which is the true art. ↩
- Some people hate conflict. I’m not one of those people. ↩
- There are a million feminist/non-feminist books by linguists on the topic of women and communication, and I probably hit every stereotype. ↩
- Pro tip: Don’t get offended on someone else’s behalf. It’s not worth your energy and it’s condescending to them if they’re not offended anyway. ↩