Culture

Bad Advice: Stop Having So Many Opinions

Submit your questions to [email protected] or leave a question in the comments section, and I’ll answer it in Bad Advice!

politics

Dear Bad Advice,

I’m very passionate about politics. I read about it extensively every day, from both sides, and I watch a ton of news and analysis shows. It’s more than an interest — I think it’s important for everyone to be involved and to educate themselves on how our country is being run, and take action. But my friends feel differently. They keep telling me to find something else to talk about. How do I make them understand that they should be interested in politics, because it concerns them too?

– Concerned Politico

This is going to sound like bad advice, but listen to your friends and shut the hell up every once in a while.

 

I know with all the stories about low-information voters floating around, it’s easy to feel like screaming when you encounter someone who tells you bluntly they’re just not that interested in politics. Shouldn’t we all be interested, because the outcomes affect us all? Yes…to an extent. But your friends aren’t bad Americans for not wanting to discuss politics every minute of the livelong day.

I’m going to assume that your friends at the very least have a high school education, and that, while many conservatives bemoan the demise of civics education, your friends at least emerged with the knowledge that their vote matters and they should pay attention to the news to make an informed decision. You probably don’t need to enlighten them on that point. If they’ve chosen not to care enough about politics for your taste, you could try to argue why they should care more. But right now, I’m going to focus less on your friends and more on you, and tell you why you should care less.

One of the great things about America is that every individual citizen can take ownership of the government by voting. We should all be engaged. But I also think that government, in its ideal form, should let you just get on with your life. In other words, while a part of you should always be engaged in the political system, at the end of the day you hope that the outcome will allow you to continue doing, peacefully and freely, whatever it was that you like to do with your life on all the other days you’re not voting. And all those other things that you could do with your life tend to make much more pleasant and agreeable topics of conversation than politics.

Maybe your goal isn’t to be pleasant and agreeable when you’re hanging out and chatting with your friends. Fine. Then don’t complain or act confused when they tell you you’re kind of a bore!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JR8ols4mYc

Discussing politics with your friends and neighbors is a great part of being an American. But it gets a little less great when that’s all you can talk about. Anyone who dwells on one topic tends to wear his listeners thin after a while. And I can speak, first hand, for the singular grating irritation that arises from listening to someone who, no matter how often you try to change the subject, insists on only talking about politics. In fact, the only thing more irritating than that (though the two — almost lethally — frequently go together) is a person who has an opinion on absolutely everything. I know — I live in Washington, DC.

So maybe a part of your problem doesn’t even have to do with the merits of discussing politics — maybe it has to do with your own level of politeness and consideration. If you know you’re talking about something that bores or irritates your friends, and they’ve told you this, and you keep going, the problem isn’t that they’re insufficiently enlightened about the importance of politics. The problem is you’re an ass.

It doesn’t matter that it’s your all-consuming passion. If you had a friend whose all-consuming passion was bike maintenance, eventually you’d be screaming “Shut up already!” if that’s all he insisted on talking about. This isn’t even all about pleasing your friends. If you let your entire life be consumed so wholly by one thing that it’s all you know to talk about, you’re not exercising your mind very well. You might feel frustrated when your friends don’t want to talk about politics because it reveals how limited you are in conversation. The first step to feeling better is to actually lets your friends take the lead in conversation sometimes, and find out what they like to talk about, and ask them questions about themselves and their lives.

Then, think for a moment about how many other things there are to talk about, big or small — music, movies, books, art, celebrity gossip, travel, stories from your past, how everyone’s family is doing, events around town, hobbies, fitness, fashion, spirituality and religion, or interesting things that you’ve learned recently (non-political), just to start. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Some of those topics are weighty, some silly, but all of them will make you a little more rounded, and a little less bitter when someone shuts you down from talking about politics.

Submit your questions to [email protected] or leave a question in the comments section, and I’ll answer it in Bad Advice!