I have what some consider a nasty habit, one I’ve had all of my adult life. I love to discuss politics–in any forum, on social media, in person, on the phone, at protests, yelling out my car window, wherever I can. Oh, it’s horrific. I’ve tried to reduce political posts on Facebook in recent years because I can almost see the eye rolls. I’ve also read posts from friends who express their annoyance or frustration when anyone shares opinions about politics. Since I’m a people pleaser, and I obsess over what others think of me I’ve tried to tone it down as much as humanly possible for a self-professed political junkie. But now that I’ve been defriended a few times for posting political opinions, I’ve decided to go outside of my comfort zone and try to worry less about pleasing everyone–it’s simultaneously liberating and scary.
Here’s some background about me, discussing politics is a large part of who I am today. I dislike blaming others for my problems, but it’s my dad’s fault I’m so politically opinionated. I recall when I was about 12 I attempted to read George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” thinking it was a book for kids. When my dad found out, he taught me about satire, totalitarianism, and communism, and it was the start of many such conversations. Kind of cool, orrr maybe it’s the source of my troubles? I realized early on that my dad opened up, and he was impressed with my curiosity, so we both fed into each other’s need for acceptance. Since then we’ve rambled on and debated politics, for lengthy periods of time, sometimes in loud voices taking up space in the living room. We’ve been yelled at by the rest of the family to shut up, and they’ve expressed that we seem exclusionary and elitist.
Nearly 30 years later, my dad and I still discuss politics but with less comfort and openness as we once had since the constant criticism has put a damper on our enthusiasm. We talk outside in his beautiful garden, or we discuss the news on the phone, but the energy of the past is gone. It’s a sad loss. But we’ve made a pact that nobody will ever fully stop us from being engaged in political affairs, current events, literature, philosophy, and sociology because we gain enjoyment from discussing these topics.
But lately, I’ve become sensitive, overly-concerned, and I judge myself more harshly than ever before when I express an opinion. Here are some of the obsessive questions I ask myself when discussing politics in person or online:
1. Who in the hell do I think I am?
My credibility is one of my most over-riding concerns, really I have no formal expertise or profession to discuss politics. I agree with this on face value, I’m not an academic or journalist. But I do like to state my opinions and I work hard to be sure they are well-thought-out with research and evidence to support my claim. Admittedly, I read so-called liberal publications, and my points can be progressive, somewhat activist, strange, and off-center, so I’m sure I annoy a lot of people. Sorry, that is not my intent, and I realize that this reaction is a result of our bifurcated society. I also admit that living in The Bay Area has an influence on my world-view, but that doesn’t make my opinions invalid. When the illustrious Sarah Palin came on the scene, I remember thinking if she can go around blabbing about whatever she feels like without any evidence, I shouldn’t feel so worried, at least my viewpoints are intelligent and well-informed. Not that I’m hoping to emulate her but in a weird way I do admire her “you betcha” tenacity. Okay, she is not a very high bar to reach, but you get the point. I just notice others display a delusional amount of self-confidence when stating a position, so why can’t I? I know, my people-pleasing streak is showing, I got to get over it.
2. What if I get negative feedback?
I wish I could understand how people arm themselves against feeling vulnerable when posting opinions or making really strong statements, especially online. I should be ready for questions or disagreements, and so far I do take them seriously and try to respond with respect. But it’s super uncomfortable at times, and when people disagree I feel stupid and self-centered, again I have to learn to get over it. But no matter what, I should expect backlash and disagreement as I become more outspoken about political viewpoints. For example, recently Nicholas Kristoff from The New York Times posted a strong statement about the Republican presidential debates:
He had so much opposition to his concerns about vaccines that he was compelled to respond to readers by posting this article as scientific proof that they are safe.
Guess what? He still received comment after comment arguing against vaccination, accusing him of being misinformed, asking him to look at another side and many posted articles that proved their points too. So even the best get this backlash to a position they stand by, so I suppose I could take some solace that this is expected. I don’t think I will ever get over the discomfort, but perhaps I can take more time writing extremely well thought out posts, clearly state my position and then resist responding right away.
3. How do I know I’m posting or stating accurate information?
Accuracy is a tough subject because there is so much information that can be misconstrued to prove any side of a debate. I try to stick to reputable publications, but I’m well aware The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Economist, The Guardian, and the BBC, all have their political slants. Even so-called bi-partisan organizations such as Pew Research still operate within a defined set of beliefs and bias. It just so happens I feel most comfortable with the general position of these media outlets, but if I can find source material, I will use it instead. I’m also fully aware that these media sources can be disproven and they’ve all had scandals surrounding inaccurate articles. But to function and have some semblance of sanity, I have to have a basic trust in the news, and at the same time read it with a grain of salt. And I know that lobbying groups distribute press releases to these organizations projecting their self-interests in articles. Again, all these factors are a huge constraint because it has become increasingly difficult to read untainted information. No matter how hard I try to avoid it, I may be spreading untruths but I hope to be the first to point it out and I will always own up to it.
4. What is my motivation for posting a political statement?
I struggle with this as well, am I posting my position to make a point, or convince people to change their minds? Sometimes I may be doing this, such as with issues surrounding climate change, women’s health and gun control. At the same time, I know that I’m unlikely to make an impact with those who have strong beliefs. However, many people’s positions on issues fall in the middle, and some haven’t formed an opinion. So, despite all my intentions to share information for the sake of discussion, I admit that I do hope to influence or inform someone. At the very least, it would be fun to have a healthy dialogue that is not peppered with hateful criticism and false judgments.
5. Why should I care, it’s not like I can make a difference?
Yeah, I can take on this apathetic point of view from time to time. I don’t see much point in discussing every issue, or fighting for every cause. Certainly, it seems that the powers that be are doing what they want with little input from society. But every once in a while I do see glimpses of change, and I totally fall for it time and again. There is something to be said about the democratic process, call me a Pollyanna, but I believe in the power of the people!
6. Am I a pretentious and entitled liberal latte?
I have been accused of this over the years and, in theory, I try to “own it” as friends have suggested. But, I was just called a stuck-up yuppie, so maybe I should take heed? Or develop a thick skin? I can see that I may come off as an entitled, bleeding- heart liberal. And I’ve noticed that the progressive point-of-view is going out of favor and becoming outdated even in the liberal bastion of San Francisco. So maybe one of my goals could be to refine my positions based on what super cool millennials or even libertarians believe. I do try to listen to other ideas, and it’s a challenge to change completely, but I’m open to trying. Some of my viewpoints have changed as I’ve gotten older. At any rate, I hate lattes they have too much milk, I prefer hipster cold-brew coffee, low ice, with a splash of unsweetened organic almond milk. Yes, please!
7. Should I just get over it and post cat videos all day?
It’s hard to accept that perhaps I should consider eliminating all political discussion online. Honestly, a sort of malaise sets over me when I consider this approach. And I do feel like such an outsider, alone in my liberal, hipster garage in Oakland writing pretentious literary and political posts. I know my close friends will try to support, but they will burn out too. I notice I get more likes on Facebook when I post pictures of my coffee or a cute quote by my daughter than one of my long blabby blog posts (like this one). I wish I could be more neutral. I do post silly memes and the latest hip-hop dance craze, and I find it funny too, I’m not being fake. I do have a sense of humor. I swear, really I do! But maybe I should keep this in mind,
You have to remember one thing about the will of the people: it wasn’t that long ago that we were swept away by the Macarena. –Jon Stewart
I guess it’s true, about all we can agree upon now is ironic posts of TV shows and kitty cat videos. Yay kitty cat videos, nobody ever gets mad at me for posting Dance Kitty Cat. Dance, I’m a kitty cat, and I dance, dance, dance.
8. Really, maybe I should think about shutting up for once in my life?
I do think it’s probably better to keep quiet and post mundane items on Facebook even though there is so much happening in the world. As I’ve become more openly political again, I already feel a little drained by the conversations. I still feel this need to explain my positions in a way that doesn’t offend, but somehow I still do! I always obsess about other people’s feelings and have lost hours of sleep over a comment or a post. This conflict is insane for someone as loud-mouthed as me, and I do live with constant inner turmoil. It’s awesome!! But I do believe that political dialogue is a crucial activity for a functioning Democracy. As Plato says (and yeah screw it, call me snooty),
One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.
9. Am I well-informed or am I an out of touch, intellectual snooty-pants?
It’s difficult for me to stay out of a political conversation for long. Sooner or later I will see or hear something, and my curiosity will get the best of me. I learned from my father early on that those in power want to stifle our voices, quell our passionate discourse, keep us muted because it makes it easier for them to govern without our involvement. Yes, politics seems more confusing and divisive than ever, but this is done on purpose to promote disengagement. For example, a common accusation is sounding too academic or “professorial” (an insult hurled at Obama), or stuck-up, or holier than thou. These are all tactics to quiet people who have an opinion, to discredit those who are trying to speak out.
Also, it’s easy to point out that elitism is separate from populist sentiment and that being well-informed, well-read, and educated is not compatible with the ideals of the general public. I disagree wholeheartedly, one of the benefits of the Internet is the availability of information to a broader public, now we can access what was once only available to those in the ivory towers. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time to read one article, or search for some background to be engaged, or as informed as only the elite once were. No wonder political leaders want to keep us divided!
10. Maybe people don’t want to express their opinions as openly as I do?
I do understand that not everyone likes to be open or feels comfortable expressing a strong opinion. I think it does take a little bravery, slight egotism and desire to engage. Some of my friends have admitted they dislike discussing politics because they don’t feel fully informed. Again, it’s not about being perfectly accurate, and sometimes clarity can come through discussion. Sometimes, in the midst of a heated debate I might not let someone get a word in edgewise, but it’s okay to interrupt sometimes! Anyhow, everyone has their weaknesses, and I’m always working on my listening skills. On the other hand, I do wish people would try not to feel bothered when anyone posts articles, quotes, or posts their own opinions. My hope is that everyone tries to take the time and engage in political discussion a little more, even if it is scary. I swear it can be a lot of fun, and it maybe change the way you see the world around you or inspire you to act, or learn a new history or point-of-view. Isn’t this a good thing?