You got that lecture when you were young, didn’t you? You can’t mention three things in polite conversation: money, politics, or religion, they told us.
Well, I’m calling bullshit.
Money, politics, and religion make our world go ’round, but we’re not supposed to talk about them? Who made that rule? I refuse to be shamed anymore for talking about some of the most important things in life.
The 3 Unspeakables
What has not talking about religion gotten us? It has helped us to ignore that some of our neighbors are Jewish or Muslim, or even just many varying shades of grey between Catholic and Protestant. Since we don’t talk about it, we don’t realize that no one group has the corner on morality, and that there can be many, beautiful ways to love the great unknowable. It has lead us into the deeply dangerous territory of equating religion with science. If we were to just plop them both on a table, it would become really clear how the two are different and how each should have a role in shaping public policy.
What has not talking about money gotten us? It’s gotten us underpaid and overworked. Because no one talks about how much we make, we often don’t realize the huge discrepancies in pay between genders and races. Really amazing changes have happened lately because people have started fessing up to their salaries. Folks on the bottom have started demanding what they’re worth, and folks on top have started reaching down and pulling people up to stand on an equal footing with them. Not talking about money has got us stressed about how in the world we’re going to get our kids to college or how (or if!) we’ll take retirement, all the while our neighbors secretly worry about the same thing. It’s gotten us blaming ourselves and or pointing fingers at the Jones next door instead of the rich 1% who keep siphoning away our dreams.
And politics, man. Not talking about politics got us a whole slew of problems. Most notable lately, it got us 53% of white women voting for Trump in 2016, and the other 47% looking around gobsmacked trying to figure out what just happened. And then again a year later 63% of white women voted for Roy Moore in Alabama. I’m not saying that talking politics would necessarily have changed the results of those elections–those women voted for their own perceived self interest and I’m not going to pretend they didn’t realize what they were doing–but we shouldn’t have been that surprised by our sisters. Not talking about politics is just an invitation for your campaign to be blindsided by reality.
And let’s just name the elephant in the room, shall we? Old Man Racism, I see you. How often do we try to call out racism and people respond with “Oh, let’s not get political”? Now, we can argue statistics and how we’ll measure the problem. But if we all agree that a certain portion of the human race isn’t getting the same treatment as the rest of us, then that is NOT political. It is a FACT. Politics is the debate about what we decide to do about the problem. When we say “let’s not talk politics” what we’re often saying is: “let’s not examine how part of the human race is getting pushed down so that others can be more comfortable.” Racism hides itself in the dark shadows cast by our non-political conversations.
Where and when did politics become a dirty word? Why are we as secretive about what happens in the voting booth as what happens in the bedroom? Or even more so? I’m not going to let anyone shame me for being passionate about the state of the world.
Politics is not Cronyism
The main thing I hear when trying to talk politics is “Oh, politics is all corrupt.”
I think this is a large part of the reason why a lot of people don’t want to talk about politics. There is the assumption that it is all lost, all past redemption, and not worth trying to salvage or talk about.
Yeup, there’s a hella lotta corruption out there. However, politics is not just the cronyism that keeps the powerful in charge year after year. The political system has been corrupted. But politics in and of itself is just the discussion about how we are going to solve our communal problems together.
Politics is a tool. It has no more moral value than a machete–do you use to it clear a path or build a house? Or to injure someone? Even if it’s been used to kill many people, it’s still not the machete’s fault, and it can still be picked up and used for good purposes. We need politics.
Politics is the framework of our society, and it runs through everything. It is the national family discussion of how much we’re going to spend on our grocery bill, and whether or not we’re going to fix the roads this year, or if we can afford college for our kids. It is inescapable. We might as well be using it right, and policing those that don’t.
Politics is not Optional
Anyone ever say to you: “I don’t do politics”?
I always think: nice try, sweetheart. Truth is, the politics is going to be done by somebody. Our society is too complex for it to just stop existing. So if you decide you’re not going to engage, that you’re not going to “do politics,” then politics will be done TO YOU by someone else.
So it’s really a question of how you wanna go out. Do you want to have some say in what happens in your world? Do you want to have some say in what goes on that national family grocery list? Or do you want to let someone else decide for you and just hope (without checking) that they’ve got your best interests in mind (hint: they don’t)? Me, I’m going down swinging.
I hate the corruption in our political process as much as the next person. However, hating the corruption is not a get-out-of-jail-free card to avoid the problem altogether. We need politics. Pretending we can opt out of it all is just sticking our heads in the sand.
Terrified of Talking Politics
It’s a funny thing writing a blog about politics and activism. Being internet-saavy folks, we bloggers connect a lot online. There are Facebook groups and training chats. It always starts with a round of introductions. The tribes sound off–the mommy bloggers, the homeschooling bloggers, the religious bloggers, the cancer-bloggers, the organic-living bloggers, and the savings bloggers all represent and they all bask in a flurry of “likes” and “oohs!” and “oh! you and I should connect!” On the other hand, I introduce myself and that I talk about self-care for activists and…. Crickets. Or like what it would sound like if crickets had dinner tables and awkward silences too.
What gives? Why can we talk about every other intimate detail of our lives (and deaths!) online but no one dares to talk about the thing that overarches it all?
People are terrified of offending. I get that. But here’s the thing: you’ll only offend if you’re an asshole about your opinions. Yep, if you go into the conversation thinking that you and only you are correct, you’re probably going to offend. If instead you start with wanting to understand how this other person sees the world, you understand that there is more than one right answer to life’s problems, and that it’s Ok to let other people live their lives differently than you do yours, well then, you’ll probably come out of the conversation with your relationships intact.
And let’s get real. Sure, we’re afraid of offending and what having an opinion will cost us socially. But let’s not pretend that silence is doesn’t have a price.
What Silence Does to Our Souls
For a while I thought the silence was because there just wasn’t a market for what I wanted to talk about. I almost gave up. And then I realized that this silence IS the problem, and that I had better climb back up on my soapbox.
So c’mon, let’s talk about what this silence around politics is really doing to us.
- It Separates Us – When we don’t talk about politics we don’t hear about the things that are killing us–literally. The hospital bills, the fights with health insurance, the lack of paid sick days, poor post-natal care, the drug epidemic, the police aggression, the deportations. We don’t recognize that many of us have similar struggles, and that those struggles transcend many of the usual divisions of class and race. When we don’t talk about politics our communal problems get reduced down to one individual’s struggle (did you hear about what happened to Tom?), and when it’s us we feel alone.
- It Shames Us – When we feel alone, we start to feel that everyone else has got this solved. That somehow there’s a solution to all this and we’re just unable to see it. We’re not talking about how these problems effect everyone, so we feel that we alone have got to figure it out. And we start to feel inadequate for the job, that we’ve failed. Damnitall, it’s society that set it up so that you can’t win, but we don’t talk about that. It’s just your fault for not achieving the American Dream all by yourself. And that’s corrosive.
- It Wears Us Down – Loneliness. Shame. Self-blame. That’s one exhausting cocktail of emotions. And the silence around politics forces you to hold it all in. It says: “You’re all alone; no one else’s struggle is like yours. It’s you who’s defective for not having figured this out; the system works you just can’t make it work. It’s your fault that your life is hard.” And then it says “And don’t you dare go rocking the boat and telling anyone how you’re feeling. No one wants to hear all that political stuff. Just keep smiling and keeping it light.” And that combination, my friend, will destroy your soul.
Breaking the Silence
So how do we have conversations about politics? How do we bust through and talk with our neighbors about the things that really matter in our worlds?
- Lead with your values – Don’t talk political parties. Even if you hate a particular orange-dyed, tiny-fingered, megolomaniac with every last fiber of your being, don’t start there. Start with: I think everyone should have easy access to healthcare, or I believe we have a moral responsibility to help innocent people fleeing war, or all kids need a good breakfast so they can focus in school.
- Listen, for the love of God – If you start something, you gotta be ready to carry it through. Now you understand that it’s cathartic and necessary for us to talk about politics. So when you go to open the political Pandora’s box, you need to be braced for what might come at you. Some of it might not be pretty. Listen hard, and read in between the lines. Don’t jump to trying to convince. Listen for the values that they’re trying to share with you. Start there.
- Accept that you might not agree – Accept that there’s many ways to peel an orange. You might not agree with another person’s methods. What works for them most definitely does not work for you. And that’s Ok. You don’t need to agree with everyone about everything. We can have different opinions. Politics is the process of finding a middle-ground that works for everyone.
The Day When Everyone Is an Armchair Politician
I look forward to the day that everyone is an armchair politician. We’ll all think we can solve the world’s problems from the safety of our living rooms. We will watch the news and hone our arguments so that we can debate our neighbor tomorrow. We will be passionately focused on how we want to build our worlds. We will be engaged in our futures.
You can start us down that road. Start talking to your co-workers about what you value. Share your worries about your kids’ futures with your neighbor. Talk about the news while sitting on the sidelines of the pee-wee baseball game.
How about pledging to have one more political conversation this week? Does that feel scary? Where do you think you would start? What’s holding you back? Tell me in the comments.
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