Political Issue: Survivor’s guide to having an opinion

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Merry Schlarman

If you’ve got an opinion, you’re going to need some help surviving this political climate.

So, you have an opinion. Great! As long as you don’t share it with anybody, you should be fine. At least that’s one trick I’ve picked up in a country where political arguments always end in yelling, and the borderline cyberbullying of political social media is accepted as a social norm. You shouldn’t need a survivor’s guide to have an opinion, and yet, so many people feel like they do in order to share even the simplest of ideas with others. So, here are some tips for not only expressing your own opinion, but also for holding constructive political discussions of your own.

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1. Avoid partisanship and actually listen.

Partisans are strong supporters of a political party and are found on both sides of the political spectrum. Because they are commonly stubborn and struggle to consider any point of view different from their own, they often jeopardize any chance of a civil conversation. Most people are guilty of expressing partisanship at some point in their lives. This is because going into a debate, you’re focused on winning and proving your point instead of reaching a conclusion and learning from the other person. If you’re too concentrated on developing your own argument instead of listening to others’, you’re missing the point of the discussion. Everyone has a different perspective on life, and the moment we start to actually listen to each other is the moment political fights turn into worthwhile discussions.

2. Social media is not a news source, so educate yourself elsewhere.

If you follow primarily liberal people on social media, you’re going to see their perspectives on the news, and thus, the more liberal perspective overall. The same goes if you follow more conservative people. Social media is a great way to make others aware of what’s going on in the news, but oftentimes their opinions can exaggerate or falsify the facts. Make sure you are getting your information from the most unbiased source you can, and that you aren’t limiting yourself to just one. Every media outlet has some bias, which amplifies the importance of having multiple sources, but NBC News and PBS News might be good places to start. Nothing’s worse than when someone asks for your source during a political argument and you have to refer them to a tweet.

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3. Stop commenting clown emojis.

Not only is social media a hub for misinformation, but it is also the home of tons of toxic political comment sections. Don’t get me wrong, social media is an excellent way to voice your opinions and express yourself, but you must do so in a civil way. Getting sucked into a condescending, disrespectful and uneducated comment war is easy, but not worth your time. Nothing useful ever results from a toxic comment section full of strangers who are looking to play devil’s advocate and get you riled up. Save yourself the energy, and stay out of the drama. And once again, using the clown emoji is never a decent counterargument.

4. Criticize ideas, not people.

Everyone must learn to separate people’s opinions from their overall character. Obviously, blatant racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia should never be dismissed as “having an opinion,” and are a complete testament to a person’s character. However, in most cases, someone can hold an opinion that doesn’t define their personality, and they should not be judged solely by one idea they had. Your goal is to persuade the other side to change their opinions, not attack them and force them to get defensive. Your opinions are not facts. Your solution is not the only solution.

Sometimes voicing an opinion the right way can be difficult, and the current political environment doesn’t help with that. Even so, elections are the perfect time for people to communicate ideas and hold constructive conversations about politics, so it’s time to get out there, share these tips, learn from others and ultimately, survive.