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Talking Politics

Talking Politics

January 2, 2019 6:10 pmComments are Disabled

Some who have known me for a long time may find it shocking, but I have generally refrained from discussing politics in polite company in the past couple years, for what I feel are obvious reasons but will probably be discussed in a future post.

However, I am currently abroad in Budapest, a city I once called home for a brief period and truly love, and I had the pleasure of meeting up with some old friends from town who delight in the sort of fast-talking, intellectual and haughty, insult-slinging, good-natured political jousting that I used to find more common amongst casual friends and family in the states.

The setting afforded me the opportunity to have a discussion about US politics with non-Americans, but also to learn more about Hungarian politics which I don’t follow that closely. Two things occurred to me.

First, I learned in stark relief that which I have suspected for a long time, but had had no foil to confirm: that Americans (at least those in my various social circles) have all but lost the ability to have an actual conversation about politics amongst friends without it becoming friendship-threatening. Sure, when we get together in a group, and we happen agree with each other about something, it can be fun to ‘talk politics’ by firing insults at the unseen hateful opposition. But sooner or later a disagreement about some point–even potentially a minor point–will inevitably derail the conversation. The vitriol cannons will turn on the person who dared profess a contrary opinion. Angry things will be said. Feelings will get hurt.

Second, I learned (or, more accurately, re-affirmed) that political conversations can be so much more nuanced, and even *productive*, when the participants are actually respectful of each other. Hungary is currently going through a period of political turmoil and uncertainty regarding the increasingly autocratic nature of its dominant political party. There are regular mass protests and feelings about issues like labor laws, press freedoms and immigration run strong. In our group tonight, there were people who professed support for both major parties and explained their reasoning, but no fists were slammed, no fits were had, and no friends were lost.

How to explain the difference in what has occurred in my country to political discussion and what is happening here? Certainly the issues are just as important to the citizens involved. But something in our current (US) political climate has boiled over. The conversations aren’t being had because no one thinks they’re worth having.

But this misses the productive purpose of political jousting amongst friends: to create a safe space to explore and experiment with new ideas. To risk being offensive, to even risk being wrong, so that you can have the opportunity to be right in the future. If people show up to the conversation knowing what they believe and not willing to engage or even listen to the other side (who are, after all, their own friends), then the jousting becomes violent, even deadly to the friendship.

I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the future (I’ve alluded to it in the past), but for now, my only point is that I’m sad. I’m sad that, amongst so many Americans, we’re not willing to look our friends in the eye anymore and say, “I disagree.” And I’m happy to see that the art of friendly disagreement is not yet lost in other parts of the world.

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