Real quickly, going back to my last blog, I want to make something perfectly clear: I’m totally there with rest of this country in terms of having fun and enjoying life. I love drinking good beer–especially my dad’s beer (big IPA’s too)–drinking good wine, eating delicious food, and living it up. I camp. I fish. I ski. I play tennis and golf, fantasy football and baseball; I follow a bunch of sports teams (#sfgiants, #blazers, #rctid, #gobeavs), watch a bunch of television, and use social media and the internet all the damn time.
That’s why I care so much: because I really enjoy my life. And I hope you do too. All I’m arguing is that we as Americans can, and should, participate in our democracy as well.
There’s this unspoken notion out there that people don’t like seeing politics on their Facebook feed, Instagram, etc., and there’s certainly a belief that we don’t like talking about it publicly. It’s seen as impolite–even rude. In other words, there’s a lot of social pressure NOT to get involved in politics–as if our lives will suddenly become angry, frustrated, or hopeless if we care.
But that’s wrong. Think about this: do you really like people on social media because they post pictures of themselves having fun in ordinary or uncontroversial ways? I don’t. I mean, it’s awesome that they’re having a great time, and it’s cool to see what people are up to–but it doesn’t make me like them more as people.
And I’d argue that’s true for most of us. We like people because of a connection we have with them–we like people that have character and personality: traits that make them a unique individual. It’s our friends and family members’ passions, their wins and losses, their gumption, their kindness, their understanding that makes us care for them.
In this sense, what we believe about politics, whether our friends/family agree with us or not, is much more endearing than photos and stories of casual, uncontroversial hedonism. Stating what we believe about politics reveals a lot about who we are as people, as well as where we come from. It makes us real; it shows we care about the country and world we live in.
But it does take a measure of courage, because of the social stigma surrounding political conversation in this country. Interestingly, sociologists and psychologists have found that even if people know for a fact that they’re wrong about something–say, being a climate change denier–they’ll often hold on to that position due to social pressure. If everyone around you believes Obama is a secret Muslim and they seem pretty angry about it, it’s going to be hard to say that it’s a bunch of nonsense.
So yes, it takes courage, but what I want people to understand is that saying something political and potentially controversial doesn’t end friendships (if it does, how good of a friend were they in the first place?), nor does it sever family ties. I disagreed vehemently with my grandfather about politics until the day he died–but I still loved him, as I’m sure he loved me.
That’s another important point. We may not change someone’s mind by engaging them and talking about the issues–even if we’re clearly correct and using facts to support our position. But that’s OK. The important thing to remember is that whether it’s a discussion at dinner, or a post on social media, other people are present as well–and it may change their mind.
An example of this is going on right now in my circle of friends. I’ve got a buddy who posted an article on Facebook about the DARK Act, which the Republican House passed overwhelmingly (again, too many Democrats voted for this bill, which you can read more about here). When I pointed out that this act–which bans states from requiring GMO labeling (Monsanto basically paid for this bill, which most Americans, when polled, are against–shows us where our politicians’ loyalties lie)–was a product of the Republican Party, which he supports, he replied that it was Hillary Clinton’s fault. He also commented on another post of mine that Walmart not paying decent wages to their employees and relying on government programs was also Hillary Clinton’s fault.
Now, as infuriating as this was–Hillary isn’t in Congress to help pass or even vote for the DARK Act, and she certainly doesn’t have anything to do with Walmart’s employment practices–it all happened on Facebook. So while I didn’t change my friend’s mind, he looks like a complete idiot to everyone else who was party to those posts. Moreover, the discussion gave people more information about what is going on in this country politically–and really, that’s the whole point. By discussing politics, we’re actively participating in the democratic process and helping our country become a better place.
The honest truth is that We, the People, actually possess the ability to take back this country–to elect pragmatic politicians, to end the gridlock in Washington, to bridge the bitter, partisan divide. We do–if everyone voted and took a little time in their lives to think about and discuss politics–we’d be able to solve a lot of our problems. But that takes courage. And right now, too many people are scared to enter the conversation; it’s much easier to just get along, be uncontroversial, and bury themselves in entertainment. But if we do that, we cede our power, and eventually, the problems we aren’t talking about, the problems we aren’t solving, will come home to roost.
So please, get involved, and encourage your family and friends to get involved. It takes a little courage, but I promise, it’s not nearly as unpleasant as our society makes it out to be.