In recent months, the subject of political conversation has proved to be a sore spot on the backs of many Americans. The more you try to pick at it, the more irritated the area becomes. The more you try to ignore it, the more infuriating it becomes when it rears its ugly head. Those in the engaged camp often don’t mesh well with those entrenched in the denial program. Nonetheless, the groups are destined to be mixed together regardless of scene or platform. Friendships often live and die on this tangled vine. I imagine that, to some, making a political statement feels like walking into a war zone unarmed. No one wants to lose a friend. But, deep within our hearts, a number of us have realized this risk is now essential — a necessity. After all, politics is an extension of our livelihood.
How does one discuss politics in 2017? Like most things, it’s complicated. Not so long ago, these discussions, while serious, didn’t hold the same gravitas they do today. We were taught at a young age that words shouldn’t hurt us, but what happens when those words directly affect our well-being? After all, aren’t words just another means to express what we see, what we feel? Is it possible to discuss sensitive, critical topics without burning bridges in the process? Should it matter if a bridge is burned for the sake of justice? If burning a bridge stops the spread of the disease at the cost of ending up stranded and alone, did you really save anyone in the end? What happens to those of us whose world view revolves around maintaining every bond we forge? These are the dilemmas that have spiraled about violently in my grey matter for the past year or so. Yes, I spend a lot of time in my head. It hurts… a lot. It’s painful. In all honesty, it’s almost assuredly more trouble than it’s worth, but for the sake of improving the world we live in, I belive it’s a necessity. Things can’t stay as they are.
While I don’t have an answer to how we should engage in these conversations, I can provide critiques of the platforms we do have. Perhaps, by assessing the failures of these platforms in regards to politics, we can derive a better solution.
Face to face: In-person conversations function as both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the opposing party is probably listening to our message. On the other, the home team likely isn’t fighting with their heaviest set of gloves. This is especially true with friends. For the sake of politeness, we dull our own daggers until they stab like butter knives. On the receiving end, we’ve conditioned ourselves to smile and nod as our heart of hearts screams in the background of our minds, slowly eating away at the soul.
Facebook: A number of people have (wrongly) deemed Facebook as a place where political conversations shouldn’t occur. If it’s a place for literally everything else: friendships, sports, life events, products, stories, likes, dislikes, etc. — Why are so many adamant about not using it for politics? Make no mistake — this rhetoric is harmful, very harmful. Nevertheless, Facebook has done a poor job of filtering out low-quality sources, leading many of the conversations that do manage to make their way onto the network to be encroached upon by slanted (often false) premises. The other elephant in the room lies in the fear of starting a never-ending war amongst one’s very own family and friends. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, yet we allow it to.
Twitter: The brevity of a tweet does not lend itself to larger, nuanced discussion. A tweet only provides enough characters for a singular, black and white statement. The poignant tweets deemed as “Slam Dunks” bleed to the forefront; meanwhile, the less exciting (but equally important) parts of the conversation decay in the background. It may feel nice in the moment, but only being able to dunk isn’t going to net you a win in an official Match. Never forget — You can make it into every clip on the highlight reel and still lose the game.
Local Political Groups: Access to these organizations may be limited. That in and of itself lowers the range of voices. It’s great to have a bunch of engaged individuals under a single roof, but what about the other people who vote? What about the hidden majority? You know, The ones who can’t be reached outside of social networking platforms? Surely, we’re not foolish enough to forget about them again after what happened in November. Local political groups often segregate themselves on a partisan basis, meaning conflict is kept to a minimum until time comes to lace up and play. In worst case scenarios, these groups act as bubbles which cloud members from the greater discussion and present a false image of reality.
This is a meagre subset of problems these platforms contain in regards to politics. Finding a single solution, if one even exists, is not simple. Despite the inherent flaws of discourse, it’s essential that we continue to have these hard conversations. The moment we give up on our message is the moment we gave up on ourselves.