In Ancient Rome, the greatest of the public speakers would stand on the floor of the Senate with their robes gathered about them and argue their political beliefs with both skill and pride. This, in turn, invited discourse, and others with opposing views would join the debate. An entire republic was built upon this keen understanding of the need to share opinions. And sure, things did get “stabby” at times, but hey, it was Ancient Rome. What do you expect?
We’re quite far removed from those days. The Senate floor has since been replaced by the Internet. And regardless of whether or not they have great oratory skill, it seems like talking heads are espousing their political ideals a little too far out of stabbing distance to keep them honest. What’s a good citizen to do in these trying times? Cleary, to keep a level head—and enjoy a happiness that doesn’t depend on the political opinions of others—it’s time to take a step back, realize that politics is just one manifestation of mass communication… and relax.
Republicans versus Democrats: The Great Political Divide
The current political landscape is recognized for having two distinct blocs—conservative Republicans on one side and liberal Democrats on the other. The difference between these two prevailing parties can be stark, and it can be challenging to stay neutral. According to Pew Research Center’s 2014 survey, 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican. That shows a majority share more extreme political opinions, and not a lot of people occupy a middle ground.
Sadly, the political wall is so palpable, you can see it casting its shadow in people’s daily lives. Studies show that the dislike and hostility towards the opposing party have grown so high that both camps see each other as a threat to the nation’s well-being.
Just Relax, It’s Only Politics
Trading opinions on matters of public interest is one thing—and a very noble thing—but breeding an aggressive stance towards those with different viewpoints is another thing entirely. And it’s not a very healthy thing, either. Freaking out over political opinions that don’t align with yours can be stressful, and recent studies show that chronic stress can do some pretty harmful things to you. With that in mind, here are some tips on how you can keep your politics in check and live a more relaxed existence:
Stop and step back. People tend to be passionate when speaking about topics they feel strongly about. The natural reaction is to charge forward whenever we feel our ideas are being challenged. Take control by zooming out and refusing the initial impulse to lunge. Engage only when you feel that your mind is clear and free from judgment.
Listen with the intent to understand. It is difficult to win in a political argument. Both sides engage with the intention of convincing the other to join their side. Refuse the urge to do this, and simply focus on understanding the other side’s argument.
Speak a language that both sides can understand. Despite coming from opposing sides, people engaged in an argument can still find common ground. Focus on the “why” of the discussion and avoid assumptions when engaging with someone who comes from an opposing point of view.
Respect institutions and order. While respect does not mean blind acceptance, one has to remember that these institutions have been validated and tested by time. They are also in place to maintain law and order.
Be open to new ideas. Our view of the world may be limited if we insist on looking at things through our eyes only. Embracing new ideas grants you access to possibilities and different perspectives. Doing this can help you balance your own ideas and others’ ideas.
One of the gifts of democracy is discourse. Democracy is robust when people are given a chance to engage in dialogue. And dialogue can only happen when we knock down walls of mistrust and build bridges through moral humility. Communication also occurs with sincere efforts to understand the other side. The ability to meet people from the opposite side allows diverse thoughts and views. This helps you avoid the trap of seeing your own truth as the only truth.
Dealing with politics is simply dealing with mass communication and the disparate ideas it can bring. But at the end of the day, hearing opposing points of view shouldn’t matter. What matters is the act of discourse itself. So step back, listen and relax, and enjoy the ride. After all, that attitude kept Rome going for a thousand years.