How to be Involved with the Political Process while Maintaining Civility
Wednesday October 5, 2016

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Is it November 8th yet? Or should I say November 9th?

With fewer than six weeks to go before the U.S. General Election in which a new president will be elected, I find myself seeking tools to effectively converse about the proceedings without veering off topic. After all, as someone who has taught and eagerly enjoys learning more about politics, history and government, I revel in the election process; however, this season the process has challenged my approach. But rather than allowing these unexpected differences to frustrate me, I have chosen to be resolute to use it as a means to hone my approach to being a more effective communicator, listener and seeker of the truth. And I encourage you to join me.

In spite of the ease we assume will come if we throw our hands up and choose not to participate in the process, we are actually inflicting pain upon ourselves and reducing the chance that the world we wish to live in and contribute to can be a reality in the near future.

As in life, when a challenge presents itself, it is an opportunity to shrink or grow because regardless, we will forever be changed one way or the other. Why not choose a change to further progress? Why not grow instead of shrink? Why not put ourselves in the driver’s seat?

What I’ve learned so far is that the current election has asked of me to know the facts. In other words, it is my responsibility to seek out multiple sources, reputable sources and discover what really happened, what really occurred and why it occurred without the narration of the commentators who want your eyeballs for their bottom line. I like this task. This is a task I am regularly instructing my students to involve themselves in. Don’t be fed. Rather seek the food that will sustain you.

Additionally, it has motivated me to become more involved in a manner that I feel comfortable, in a manner I feel ensures I am informed, heard without alienating those I love and wish to teach regardless of whether we agree or disagree on core issues. In other words, it has required of me to be cognizant of others and seek out conversations to find understanding rather than to try and change their minds.

How is this possible? How can we, as individuals, regardless of party or ideology be involved in the political process all the while maintaining our civility, our relationships and our sanity?

1. Seek out the truth

Often the important issues cannot be summarized in one tweet, IG pic or news clip. It takes time, patience and skimming more than just headlines to learn the truth. Be sure you are seeking out reputable sources, and be sure to read more than one source.

2. Converse to gain understanding

With each election I vote in and thus spend more time discussing with co-workers, friends and strangers, I realize that often the best approach is not to begin with your opinion or share who you are voting for, but rather ask “why?”. Especially if you hear something about your candidate or issue that you’ve never heard before or a particular stance of the opponent’s that doesn’t make sense, ask someone who appears to be passionate about it (and hopefully knowledgeable) to share with you why they believe so fervently in what they do. Sometimes the response you receive will reveal the person speaking doesn’t have a shred of sound reasoning to stand on, but sometimes you will find a worthwhile conversationalist who is savvy to the truth and behind-the-scenes that often are not common knowledge.

3. Determine if you have a willing audience for discussion

Not everyone you run into wants to talk about politics and the election season even if they are sure to vote and paying close attention. Instead of overstepping, simply test the waters. It will save a tense moment or two and establish clear boundaries that could help to preserve a relationship of any kind.

4. Seek depth, not soundbites

Soundbites lack context, but time is valuable; therefore, that is often all we hear or see. Even if you do hear soundbites, be aware there is always more to the story.

5. Listen to and read multiple stations and newspapers for a brief period of time on the same issue.

After the first Presidential debate last week, I immediately viewed about 5-10 minutes of the differing politically leaning stations, as well as read the front page story on both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. To know both sides is to gain perspective. It may not change your mind, but it will provide understanding. Bias is revealed not only by what is written or said, but also by what is omitted and unspoken.

6. Watch or Listen to debates

A few weeks ago our Gubernatorial candidates held a debate here in Bend, and I was not about to miss it. Again, while I knew the newspaper would cover it and it was televised, I had the chance to be there in person and I took advantage of this opportunity. Why? I wanted the full context. I wanted to feel the energy in the room, observe the candidates in person and observe as well as hear the energy of the audience. Needless to say, it was fascinating, and I have never felt so involved and moved by yes, a political debate. Why? Politics, while they may be frustrating to some (okay, many), is what shapes our lives, our opportunities and the day-to-day life we live. If we don’t at least recognize this truth, we are tossing control away that could be ours.

With regards to the Presidential debates (as I type I am watching the Vice Presidential debate on mute with subtitles), I wanted to see if there was a difference between watching and only listening to them on the radio. So last Monday, I listened on my earbuds while walking my dogs to the first half, and then watched the second half. I must say it was interesting as it focused my attention on the content, not the theatrics.

7. Speak with substance

Again, with each election I partake in as a voting citizen, I find myself engaging in fewer conversations about politics unless I have and want to share an idea that is supported with sound evidence.  I find that many people don’t know much detail, but rather respond to the hype, and I there are I times I recognize I just don’t know enough to comment. Both situations tend to motivate me to find out more, learn more and ensure that next time (whether I choose to engage or not), at least I know the truth.

Consequently, my goal is to model a conversation that while it may not change someone’s mind will at least offer food for thought. Again, we must know our audience. For example, if someone states something that is profoundly wrong and I have the ability to correct them, I gauge whether it is necessary or worth while. Do they want to know the truth? Would it matter? Are they making a statement that covertly reveals an accepted stereotype which eases their mind? Are there people that are being influenced around them and lead to believe the falsehoods? Maybe in that particular case I would speak up, but sometimes they want to spar, and I have learned from experience it isn’t worth my energy or the need to raise my blood pressure.

8. Quality information, but less of it

I will never be an advocate for stepping away entirely from staying informed. However, there are many ways to remain informed as long as we again seek credible sources. Instead of watching or reading the news each night or morning, why not once a week? Balance the news you digest with the arts you enjoy, the entertainment you savor and relax to and the world and life you’ve created for you and those you love. Politics indeed effects our lives immensely, but limiting our exposure and instead focusing on ensuring we are efficiently informed, but then allowing ourselves to walk away will help maintain balance and peace of mind.

As I mentioned initially, I am choosing to view this election season as a test. As an opportunity to be a more informed citizen. An opportunity to be cognizant of my own errant assumptions and thus understand why I do so. An opportunity to be a better consumer of all of the information that is available at any given moment.

I encourage you to not become frustrated and choose not to vote. I encourage you to remain a citizen who wants to participate in the building of what will be the tomorrow we will all live in. I encourage you to become involved in a manner that you are comfortable with.

Wishing you a serene remainder of the political election season, and for my international readers who are not voting directly in the election here in the states, thank you for doing your part in your own country.

2 thoughts on “How to be Involved with the Political Process while Maintaining Civility

  1. I think you are wise to create a strategy for yourself during this especially difficult election season. I have found it personally very difficult, and like you, I have had to find a balance between staying informed and protecting myself from useless aggravation.
    Thanks for being a bright spot in the midst of it all!

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