People often say it’s not polite to discuss politics. In ye olde days, I don’t think this was the case; people discussed politics all the time. Maybe there was less to talk about back then, maybe there were fewer ‘polite’ distractions like sports and celebrities. Or maybe it’s because back then people realized the direct impact that politics had on their lives, and maybe now we’ve forgotten.
It can take time to research what values a politician has, and it can take even more time to research whether or not they’ve honestly stood up for those values. It’s not always easy. It could take hours, days, weeks. And to figure out the values that you have yourself, well, it can take a lot longer than that… and it usually takes a lifetime to find out if you’re honestly living up to those values.
I’ve voted in every federal and provincial election since I turned 18, including that very same year. That first time, and even the next few elections following it, I voted for a party that today I could never again see myself supporting. Back then, I was adamant in my conviction that they were the best party to represent me. Nobody could dissuade me. I was as passionate and stubborn as ever you’ve known me to be.
It took me a long time to figure out my own values, the things that I believed in most without any outside influence. I took long walks alone in the woods, filled pages and pages of journals I never intended to share with anyone. Weeks, months, years of questioning what I’d been told and what I believed. And today, do I have it all figured out? I’m not sure. All I know is that, figuratively speaking, I’m a completely different person than I was when I was 18.
I think politics should be discussed more and I think it can be done politely. It can be frustrating at times because there are people who passionately and stubbornly prefer opinion to fact, and worse still, people on both sides of the spectrum who see opinion as fact. I’m sure I do it too, although I genuinely try my best not to. But it’s in these frustrating moments when people with equal passion disagree that we’ve come to label “impolite,” and so we avoid the subject of politics entirely. To be polite. To not offend someone; a friend, colleague, a family member.
But maybe it’s because we don’t discuss politics enough that we’ve learned to reject new information. Maybe it’s because we’re afraid of the consequences, that it may lead to hours, or days, or weeks figuring out who we really are all over again. Maybe we’re worried that if this new information does change us then we’ll have a whole new section of friends, colleagues, or family that might disagree with us. It can be a terrible feeling, like we’re an outcast, like we have no identity, like we’re lost.
Change is not always easy… I know it wasn’t for me, that’s for sure. Looking back, the first step alone seems impossible to me now: be open-minded. It doesn’t sound hard, not until you consider that the biggest part is realizing what that actually means. Back when I was 18, I thought I was open-minded, and I would’ve argued that until I was blue in the face. I listened to opposing points of view all the time, no problem! And then I kicked those points of view out right away because what I already believed was what I believed, and that was that. There was no single defining moment when I realized this behaviour. Gradually, I allowed new information in and let it stay. This led me to the next step of change, which was gorging myself on more and more information, taking in as much as I could as often as I could. Was it time consuming? Absolutely. Did I want to do it? Not really, because learning how wrong I was didn’t necessarily make me feel good about myself. Was it worthwhile? With all sincerity, I couldn’t imagine myself any other way.
I have no University background. I’m no scholar. No degrees, diplomas, hardly any post-secondary experience at all. Who I am today is strictly a result of redirecting my passion and stubbornness toward self-discovery. I took in new information and considered it, then sought out information that contradicted it and considered that too. I tried to find a balance of opinion and then figured out my own position on the scale. I did my best to learn to separate opinion from fact, which is still ongoing, just like how I’m still learning to be open-minded.
At times, I still get frustrated when people disagree with me, but I’m better at recognizing why. Sometimes it’s because I realize I’ll have to spend more time digging through information. Other times it’s because I think the person disagreeing with me is arguing opinion against fact. When this happens, it helps to ground myself when I remember that I did that too. I suspect we all did, I suspect that in some ways we all still do. You cannot convince anyone of anything as long as their mind is closed, no matter how many facts you present. Therein lies the frustration, and if you’re not careful, this frustration can quickly lead to impoliteness. It doesn’t mean the frustrated person is wrong, and it doesn’t mean the calm person is wrong. It is merely a conflict of opinion… and in my opinion, this is often because one of those opinions is being mistaken as fact. Again, this happens on both sides of the spectrum, and it can only ever be changed through honest individual self-reflection.
I’m becoming annoyed by the expression, “we are entitled to our own opinion.” Not on its own, mind you, because of course we are; but rather because it seems that lately it’s being misused as the final argument when disagreeing about facts. I feel like it’s something that people say when they want to end these kinds of disagreements politely, and in many cases I don’t think it’s productive. I worry that using this expression may unintentionally concede the acceptance that opinions can be used as a substitute for facts. Are there gray areas to this? Of course there are, but perhaps next time you’re about to say it, consider instead just shrugging and moving along.
To be polite requires mutual respect, and there can be no civilized discourse without it. This doesn’t mean that any disagreement is inherently impolite. It means that in order for society to function, we need to encourage the discussion of ideas even when it may be frustrating. We need to encourage people to seek out facts and discover for themselves where their opinions lay within those facts. We need a society where we aren’t worried about the consequences of changing what we believe in. And above all else, we need to realize that history has always been created by individuals. We are all just one person with our own values. Let those values guide you to determine what you stand for politically. Figure out who you are and be yourself.