With this year being a Presidential election year here in the United States, more and more people are following the issues and the political process, which I think is a good thing. But as a result of this, many people are sharing their thoughts and opinions on particular issues, which is within their rights. The big question is whether it’s the smart thing to do.
At least over here, the political climate is what I describe as “toxic.” Twenty years ago, senators and representatives would fight it out with each other on the floor of the capitol building but then afterward, go out for dinner or drinks together, leaving their political affiliations at the door. Today, that’s not the case. Our representatives in congress keep to themselves or their own parties (yes, there are a few that reach across the aisle and befriend “the enemy”). When one party proposes something, even if it’s something good, the other party either picks it apart or shoots it down.
Unfortunately, this lack of tolerance has spread outside of the Washington beltway. I’ve seen some pretty nasty squabbles between people in situations such as public restaurants, during their kids’ sporting events, and of course, online during interactions on Twitter and Facebook.
Every now and then I’ve been tempted to post my thoughts on a particular issue – and believe me, I have a lot of thoughts and strong opinions on things. But I’ve resisted because of this environment. I vent enough about things to people in real life, so I don’t feel the need to vent online. However, sometimes I’ve felt the need to respond.
Many people see social media as their outlet to act like a spoiled six-year-old. Because they are not directly talking to someone they feel that they can get away with being condescending, arrogant, and immature. I often find people preaching tolerance for new ideas one moment and hypocritically calling for the heads of anyone that doesn’t agree with them the next moment.
I’ve long since stopped airing my political beliefs publicly, but back when I did I tried an interesting experiment. A local news site had a forum for political issues and I’d frequently post there. I found that arguing with people rarely changes their opinions. In fact, it has the opposite effect – it makes their beliefs stronger. So I changed my tune and used my human relation skills instead to have civilized discussions.
Rather than telling people they were dumb or wrong, I’d ask them why they felt the way they did and politely explained my position. Within a week of this, many of the people that I had considered enemies became friends. We would discuss the issues but we also started getting off topic – we would often talk about things that we each liked. We wouldn’t always agree politically, but we respected each other.
Two examples come to mind. In one case, a woman who I had previously battled with over a controversial issue logged in simply so she could share that she had finally landed a job she was pursuing. She wanted to thank me for some advice, and I was thrilled for her. It was hard to imagine that only a few weeks prior to that we completely disliked each other.
The next incident occurred where I posted, without a lot of information, that I was simply against an upcoming law. Someone replied back with a very personal attack and before I even saw it, another person who I had previously battled with jumped in to condemn the personal attack. He said that while he may not agree with my stance on the issue, that I deserved better than such a personal attack.
So the bottom line here is to take the high road and resist stooping to others’ levels. You’re more likely to be taken seriously if you respect the ideas and opinions of others rather than trying to humiliate them.
James Feudo owns the Boston Web Design Agency JVF Solutions and loves blogging about personal development and communication in his spare time.