Politics, Privilege, and the Perils of Avoidance

Here we go again.

As we head into August, it’s officially 100 days until the 2016 General Presidential Election in the United States. As I approach thirty, this is only the third general election that I’ve had the chance to participate in. But, as a young adult in the age of social media, I’ve noticed some similarities in the attitudes of my peers across all three of these campaigns. As the election approaches and the competition heats up, it seems that more and more people become disillusioned…and that disillusion quickly leads to disengagement.

Take a look at your own Facebook feed and let me know if you see any of these comments:

  • “I don’t normally talk about politics, but…”
  • “This is the one political post I will make the entire election…”
  • “I’m unfollowing all people on my feed who post about politics…”
  • *Insert sarcastic comment, poking fun at people who are politically involved*

During an election cycle, comments such as these proliferate on social media. And they all share a common sense of hesitancy, avoidance, and even disgust when it comes to having political conversations. It seems that there is a growing cynicism when it comes to politics, and people who prefer to just stay out of it altogether. I used to be totally sympathetic to this perspective, but now I’m not so sure…

For a long time, I took pride in being apolitical. I argued strongly in favor of sitting on the fence and remaining neutral on politically charged subjects. I called myself an “extreme moderate” and refused to take sides. Over the last year, though, I think I’ve come to see this disposition as inadequate and irresponsible. Don’t get me wrong; I still think it’s a good idea to be civil and even-tempered in political conversations. But I no longer thing it’s a good thing to avoid having those conversations.

Over the last year, I have become increasingly aware of the privileges I hold in various domains. I am white, so I have a racial privilege. I am male, so I hold a gender privilege. I can go on and on–I’m a heterosexual, I’m a Christian, I work in a developed economy, I have Internet access, I am more at risk of obesity than I am of starvation.

One more privilege I have–one that I hadn’t really considered until this year–is the privilege of democracy. I have the opportunity not only to vote but also to engage in free and open discussions about my government and about contentious social issues. You know the old saw parents have told their kids for ages: you’d better finish your dinner, because there are children in the world who are starving. In a similar fashion, I’ve begun to ask myself, “how can I remain silent when there people in the world who aren’t even allowed to speak?”

Here’s the thing: I know it’s trendy to be cynical about politics. I know it’s the in-thing to roll your eyes when you see the political posts on Facebook, block the “trolls” who are challenging any convictions you have, and get back to important things like cat pictures and Pokemon Go. But, stop for a moment and think about what you’re doing by withdrawing from the conversation. You are leaving the conversation in someone else’s hands. To avoid the awkwardness of hurt feelings and strained relationships, you are surrending your freedom and risking the very voice that you take for granted by allowing it to remain silent.

Whatever your political views are, we need to hear them. We need your contribution. When intelligent people become so cynical and disillusioned that they drop out of the conversation altogether, who is left to participate? Who is left to determine the future of the country? If the values we hold are worth defending, then the conversations are worth having. Refusing to engage in political discussions may keep you from rubbing anyone the wrong way, but it makes you a negligent citizen.

And just because we have the conversations, it doesn’t mean they can’t be civil. The reasons we are so divided are, I believe, two-fold:

  1. We don’t talk to each other, and
  2. If we do talk to each other, we do so without listening to each other.

When I say we need to have conversations, I don’t mean that we need to fight. We should absolutely be courteous and respectful, but we simply cannot afford to be silent. We can’t refuse to have the hard discussions. We’ll never solve the difficult problems unless we are willing to have the difficult conversations.

So please, as we head into the climax of the American political season, don’t back out of the conversations. To paraphrase 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give a reason for the views that you hold, but do so with gentleness and respect.”

Less cynicism.

More dialogue.

Better America.

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About Douglas E Rice

Douglas E Rice is just a guy who likes to learn stuff.
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4 Responses to Politics, Privilege, and the Perils of Avoidance

  1. PamelaJHA says:

    Wonderfully thought out and stated.  I will need to come back and reread this post several times this fall to keep myself on track.  Thanks Doug.

  2. douglaserice says:

    Thanks! You and me both!

  3. NJ_lex says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed your post. Unfortunately, I’ve treated politics like the plague at times or worse yet, became apathetic about it. Over the last four years or so, it’s become more important to me. If only debates could be an honest exchange of ideas, participants listening and learning from each other. Will we ever learn that slinging mud accomplishes nothing? The mainstream media is our enemy. They thrive on mud. I, too, will reread your post. Fine job! Thank you!

  4. douglaserice says:

    Totally agree. When we listen, we are often only gathering talking points to outline our rebuttal. Progress cannot be made until all involved in the conversation are genuinely willing to change their minds.
    On the media, some I think are better at maintaining objectivity than others (NPR, CBS, USA TODAY, etc.). There are those on both sides, though, that exist solely for reaffirming the entrenched views of their constituents–both mainstream outlets (FOX NEWS, MSNBC) and fringe outlets (Think Progress, Breitbart, etc). I think we just need more discretion in what we consider to be genuine news and good journalism. http://www.douglaserice.com/media/

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