The etiquette of politics: oxymoron?

Some say one should never discuss religion or politics in mixed company. Or at the dinner table. Or on Facebook. Or with anyone you may actually ever want to remain on speaking terms. In some cases, we would agree, however there is a way to discuss these things without starting World War III with your uncle/friend/coworker/high school math teacher on Facebook — civility.

It seems many in our society are a bit hazy on the meaning of the word civility, so here is a little help from Merriam-Webster:

ci ● vil ● i ● ty
noun \sə-`vi-lə-tē\ 
Definition of CIVILITY
a : civilized conduct; especially courtesy, politeness b : a polite act or expression

Now that we are all on the same page, let’s discuss how to put this into thought and action with a few do’s and don’ts:

Do

Listen with an open mind and a closed mouth

Politely ask questions

Don’t

Interrupt

Attack

Name call

Ben Franklin used to employ the questions method when debating his foes. By imploring, almost playing the part of an uninformed seeker, you get to the heart of the other person’s knowledge on the subject at hand. In most cases, his or her background information is rather on the surface and after a few pointed questions, they will fizzle out or back down. As stated in “The Autobiography of Mark Twain”:

“In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.”

(We don’t advocate telling people their opinions aren’t worth a brass farthing, but we giggle when Mark Twain says it.)

Consider yourself warned that if you use Ben Franklin’s technique, as much as most people will falter when asked to fully develop their ideas and opinions, if the person knows their stuff — and you listen to the answers to your own questions — you might just learn something.

If all else fails and you are dealing with a truly warped and ill-informed ninny soul, change the subject.

Cheers!

M