Looking for advice on choosing not to engage in discussions of politics, personal beliefs, and morals.
August 19, 2012 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Looking for advice on choosing not to engage in discussions of politics, personal beliefs, and morals.

With the upcoming election, people around me are definitely in the spirit to debate. I am the kind of person who feels very, very strongly about what I consider to be right and wrong (many others do too), whether the subject be animal rights, politics, environmental causes, etc. It's exhausting, demoralizing, and isolating to argue with people who don't share the same views as I do. I am not enlightened enough to be so understanding of why people disagree with me on issues that are very important to me, but I don't want to deal with that surge of adrenaline when someone is wrong on the internet or in real life. I am wondering if any of you have adopted a "I don't give a shit what you think" attitude and therefore choose not to participate in such discussions. Or if you have any links to articles online or references to books that discuss removing yourself, at the deepest level, from trying to convince people who I perceive as narrow-minded bigots (and I am sure I am an amoral sinner going to hell in many people's eyes as well.)
posted by DeltaForce to Human Relations (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I've done is to preemptively (within the past week) unfriend/follow a TON of people on Facebook/twitter who I know are going to be preachy about their political opinions in the upcoming months. In face to face situations, it depends. At school, I flat out tell other teachers that I don't discuss politics or religion, etc at work. Nobody has ever pushed back at that. In pretty much any other setting, I'm happy to discuss how much I look forward to Obamas eviction.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:38 AM on August 19, 2012

If you think that little of people's opinions ("narrow-minded bigots"), what good comes of convincing them of The Truth? You now have a narrow-minded bigot on your side, stinking up the joint. When one of these people starts engaging you, just think of all the stress you're going to have if they actually come over to your side and start polluting the airwaves with their narrow-minded version of your position. Think of that one guy you met at a party who was espousing a position you shared, but doing it in such a clumsy, offensive manner that you went out of your way to say, "Well, I'm also pro-gun-control, but geez..."

In my own personal and work life, I find that if people keep pushing, the occasional, "Are you absolutely certain that you want to get into a debate about this with me?" tends to shut them down. If that doesn't work and they push on, go Socratic on them. Tie them into so many logical knots of consistency that they don't know what the hell they think anymore. Then give them another chance to be done, and walk away.
posted by Etrigan at 9:44 AM on August 19, 2012

I am wondering if any of you have adopted a "I don't give a shit what you think" attitude and therefore choose not to participate in such discussions.

In this election, anyway, I have adopted this attitude. The reason is because people don't seem to want discussions, they want snark and meanness and "othering" and their own little echo-chambers. If people are arguing/discussing in good faith, I will engage. Otherwise, I ignore/walk away. You can tell pretty quickly whether someone is acting in good faith. There's not much of that around anymore.

I think by the time November rolls around I'll have about a dozen facebook friends left, because when people start posting stuff so hateful that I can practically hear the "heh-heh-heh" that accompanies their posts, I unfollow them. This includes people who I love, and people whose politics I agree with.
posted by headnsouth at 9:46 AM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I only participate in these kinds of discussions with people I've known and loved for many years, and then the point of the discussion is to figure out why we disagree on something (because oftentimes we don't) because that difference is interesting, and that discussion feels honestly productive. I do not care about convincing anyone of anything. Then again, I am very liberal, and grew up in a very conservative place, and half of my family is very conservative, so it has always been downright unfeasible to spend the amount of energy/time it would really take to argue with essentially everyone in my life constantly (especially with people who I liked otherwise). I'd much rather spend my energy/time finding things I have in common with people, and talking about those instead.

Also, if you haven't seen this fantastic comment about respectfully disagreeing with folks, then you should.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:48 AM on August 19, 2012

If that doesn't work and they push on, go Socratic on them. Tie them into so many logical knots of consistency that they don't know what the hell they think anymore. Then give them another chance to be done, and walk away.

That's fun, but it requires that you be able or willing to outlast your opponent.
posted by gjc at 10:05 AM on August 19, 2012

Rule of thumb: if you have less of a chance of changing someone's mind than you would on MeFi (which fancies itself as liberal and thoughtful and intellectual and leftist) just walk away. The debate would literally be without point.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:09 AM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and if it's social media stuff, I usually hide posts (if possible) as soon as I feel that angry, tightening sensation in my chest, and immediately remind myself that *any* response will just encourage whoever. I treat it the same as trolling, and think about how annoyed whoever will be if no one argues with them, and that helps me not get caught up in the urgency/drama of it.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:10 AM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I find the and political snarking in unrelated situations is crazy all ready and am not looking forward to the election. I have taken to avoiding reading comments on pretty much any website that might be controversial but then that doesn't always work either. I was reading an article about eggs this morning for goodness sakes and one of the commentators tried to make a political point in the middle, heck as an example someone just did it in the answers here when you made your question politically neutral. I am thinking of just avoiding any comment sections of any site ever until after November as I get the same adrenaline surges, knots in my stomach and anger I think a lot of it ties into what headnsouth said people are saying things to get reactions and not to encourage political debate and thought. They want to feel part of a team of some sort and it's hard to fight against, when I think of it like that it's easier to think of them like any troll on the internet and try and ignore them.

I have however mastered handling these comments in real life by just curtly saying "Not interested" be it religious or political or what ever, if they keep going I just keep going "Sorry not interested", "Yeah still not interested." that kind of thing refusing to engage really helps. In a work situation saying something like "work is not the place to discuss that" helps too.

With family and friends I just say "we'll see in November won't we", though most of my family have the same POV as me so it's not a big problem and for those that differs I figure it their party will loose and I can silently gloat or their party can win and I can silently gloat when things go bad. That may not be a healthy attitude but it stops me from wanting to scream. Also I've unfriended pretty much everyone I know on facebook just in case and upped my blood pressure meds so I'm braced for what's to come in the following months.
posted by wwax at 10:13 AM on August 19, 2012

I have decided, generally, that the exceptionally slim possibility of either of us changing our minds about some deep-rooted belief is not worth raising either of our blood pressures. I still post things that others strenuously disagree with, and read things I strenuously disagree with, but in order to engage, either the stakes have to be so low that I won't get hurt or upset (WHAT DO YOU MEAN, INCEPTION IS THE BEST MOVIE EVER!?!?) or so high that not allowing my voice to be heard will hurt or upset me more. It means that I don't get dragged into arguments with pro-lifers on google+, for example, because well ... there is no positive benefit to either of us, and I register my voice in a meaningful way by voting and donating to Planned Parenthood. But it also means that I will step into even the angriest conversations about sexism and barriers to women in science because I do feel like I should have a voice in those conversations and there are few enough of us who do that it is worth it to me.

I just try to keep in mind that stress and anger and frustration are generally not worth the satisfaction of being really self-righteously correct about something.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:14 AM on August 19, 2012

I used to be very, very political, and would spend endless hours trying to show people all the ways they're wrong. I have said so many words that bounced right off of some people's ears and never changed their mind.

I used to do things like send articles, or say "let's take a little quiz together" and show them that they literally knew nothing about what they were trying to talk. Still, minds didn't change.

Now, I walk away, don't engage and will actively just not speak to someone anymore if they won't shut up about it. I've said to several family members things like "we could just not talk about this, or just not talk. Your choice." Perhaps unsurprisingly, several have chosen "just not talk." Their loss.

Maybe you could try reading youtube comments? It is so, so futile to argue with people about this stuff, especially on the internet.

Also, this:

In this election, anyway, I have adopted this attitude. The reason is because people don't seem to want discussions, they want snark and meanness and "othering" and their own little echo-chambers. If people are arguing/discussing in good faith, I will engage. Otherwise, I ignore/walk away. You can tell pretty quickly whether someone is acting in good faith. There's not much of that around anymore.

posted by nevercalm at 10:15 AM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I like to discuss politics, religion, morals and personal beliefs with others who are able to have rational, respectful discourse. It's one of the things I love about MeFi. Most people just shrill-ly repeat the half-truths they heard on tv. In that case, I ask them why they think what they do, try to make a few, calm points about why I think the way I do, then change the subject. On facebook, I do post several political cartoons, charts, etc., at day. If I post something inaccurate, I welcome correction. I don't post anything that criticizes a candidate or religion on a personal or name-calling basis. I really object to any kind of "playing dirty." For instance, one candidate has been attacked based on religion, and the religion has been ridiculed. I'll ridicule statements he's made, the way he votes, his record, etc., because those are fair game, but not religion (children, the way his Mom dresses him, etc.)

Humans are social creatures; we base our thinking, in part, on what others around us think, so sharing my thoughts may make a tiny bit of difference. That's why I'll have a lawn sign and a bumper sticker.
posted by theora55 at 10:16 AM on August 19, 2012

Boy do I feel you on this one. I'm surrounded by people who don't share my views, which I've held onto strongly for years.

Recently, though, I've begun questioning the cost of that insistence I've had that I am right and everyone else is wrong. Mainly because of the toxic behavior we're seeing across America this election year. It's getting worse. Each of us is responsible for contributing to the atmosphere. What am I doing to contribute to that? How can I change?

I took a few steps back and looked at my world from a stranger's point of view. In my area some people are complete sports nuts and will spend six hours a day listening to sports radio and talking to anyone who will listen about stuff like the opening lineup for Sunday's football game. I find that pretty crazy. When they start in I have nothing to say. Those same people have no clue why I can get all worked up about universal health care.

Whenever someone starts talking in bullet points that I know are going to push my buttons I immediately think 'Opening day offensive line'. In order to keep my blood pressure low and my 'give-a-shit' in check I remember how much I care about the football team's opening lineup, and how, for some of us, that's really, really important stuff. Then I take a deep breath, smile and change the subject.
posted by toastedbeagle at 10:20 AM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

etc., *a* day

Also, thanks for the reminder about salishea's fantastic comment. It's excellent.
posted by theora55 at 10:21 AM on August 19, 2012

When people want to discuss something, I'm game. When people want to pontificate, I'm gone. Some people approach this with the goal of changing my opinion, rather than have a rational discussion where both people are open to other viewpoints and new information.

I've dropped a bunch of people from my twitter/facebook and ditched one running partner because I was unwilling to be sandblasted with their opinions.
posted by 26.2 at 10:26 AM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I block/hide any social media updates from anyone relentlessly political. I used to care about politics but spent so much time being angry eventually I realized I could just not care and not pay so much attention to it and I'd feel a million times better, so I quit caring or paying attention to politics and do feel a million times better.

In person, I will say outright that I don't care/am not listening and if they insist on dragging it out, I will start obviously agreeing with them but take things to ridiculous conclusions to eventually horrify them into shutting up.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:28 AM on August 19, 2012

An old buddy of mine had a really great way to defuse situations where a person would say something that ran counter to his ideas and/or ideals. My friends name is Vinny, so I call this "The Vinny." As follows:

Statement: "Obama hates white people, wishes they all had gas."
The Vinny: "Ya know, you might be right."

Statement: "White people suck, they all want everyone else to die."
The Vinny: "Ya know, you might be right."

Statement: "Cats are stupid, dogs are the best pet ever."
The Vinny: "Ya know, you might be right."

The Vinny just deflates everything, stops it dead. You're not arguing with them; even if they're clearly brain-dead, you've not said as much. And you're not agreeing with them, either, you're just giving it a way out. You haven't said you agree, or that you disagree, and you've given them the benefit of the doubt.

It's best to follow it up with "So, hows about that potato salad -- I just love it when Myrtle brings her potato salad!" or "Hey, I just got a raise, I'm so lucky." or whatever else, just head it out of the roiling waters and into potato salad waters.

They know instantly what you're up to, and that the game is over, and they won't like it -- they look like third graders, all fussy, mad enough to bite themselves. But the game is over, and you're on toward potato salad.

It works.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:34 AM on August 19, 2012 [15 favorites]

I just tell people that I'm so woefully uninformed that debating with me will be dreadfully dull. People who actually know me know that this isn't remotely true, but accept it as my excuse. People who don't know me very well seem to either get a weird look of disgust on their faces or else express their relief. I don't care if people think I'm ignorant, particularly.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:51 AM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have friends on FB that are very opposite to me politically. I love them dearly but as they express opinions I can't abide, I slowly move them to "important updates only" so I catch the big things but not the daily stuff. I also limit what I explicitly post about politics so that people who want to have those arguments don't look at my feed as a great place to jump in. (I've had to unfriend people on FB for wanting to argue politics all the time in my space.)

I've hit middle age. The people who know me well know my politics and my engagement level; I don't have to give a shit about what the world at large thinks.
posted by immlass at 11:02 AM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is the problem that people try to draw you in to these conversations, or that when these conversations are going on you find it difficult not to engage?
posted by J. Wilson at 11:59 AM on August 19, 2012

I have done this, not about politics, but about the politics and drama of another site that I enjoy. I found I was getting wrapped up in two many meaningless, circular arguments and that they were actually upsetting me--I was finding that my anxiety had increased in a general sense as a result.

And then I realized that these conversations were not about me, that the people participating rarely cared what I had to say and certainly wouldn't be swayed by my opinion, no matter how intelligently phrased. Every time I start to respond to one of these debates, I remind myself how it went the last few times--with me a shaking, angry mess as I typed my responses on some stupid website. I ask myself it it's worth that much emotional grief to engage with people who reflexively dismiss me and my viewpoint. I ask myself if I want to be that guy--that upset, butthurt person--or if I'd rather go read a good book instead.

Good book always wins.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:26 PM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, and it gets easier after the first time you give yourself permission to disengage. Because you might find yourself marveling at the fact that you spent the afternoon going for a walk or baking or reading rather than being a shaking rageball because you're right and they're wrong, or whatever. There's a bit of smug satisfaction that comes with it, and you'll remember that the next time it happens.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:30 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's a saying I read on AskMe that's stuck with me: "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." Knowing that I have zero chance of actually changing someone's mind keeps me from engaging.

It also helps me to have personal rules about when and where I will have debates. That way I can pull out "oh, I prefer not to discuss politics in [situation]" when the subject comes up. I prefer not to discuss politics at work, at family gatherings, at parties, on Facebook, etc. This conveniently leaves very few places for me to argue.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:11 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am of the opinion that you know what people truly believe by how they live. Actions speak louder than words and what we truly believe is often something we are not consciously aware of. Plus we all have bugs and inconsistencies where some piece of something we do doesn't jibe with other stuff. Sometimes we find ourselves in a high pressure situation where we get faced with some of our inconsistencies and we can learn more about ourselves and sometimes such situations force us to choose one or the other. But often we go through life with those inconsistencies intact for many, many years. Some people are actively trying to resolve such things. Others are not. Neither choice is inherently superior in all situations.

I think life is much more like the story of the elephant and the six blind men than most people think. If I am saying "It is like a wall" and someone else is telling me "It is like a snake" and yet another person is telling me "It is like a spear", I try to find additional information that might make this make sense. Often, we are all "correct" but only each have a piece of the picture. I am much more interested in finding the missing pieces that makes sense of multiple conflicting views than I am in declaring myself right and everyone else wrong.

My mother grew up in Germany during WWII and its aftermath. She would rather gnaw her arm off than fight with people. That is my default preference as well but as adult I have learned that there are times when it is better to take a stand. Some things are worth fighting for.

I do not mind debating ideas with people. Unfortunately, most arguments are not debates. They are fights: personal, emotional, hurtful. In such situations, there is usually a lot to lose and little to be gained. I will discuss differences of opinion if someone seems genuinely open to that. I will defend myself if I feel it is necessary. But, to the best of my ability, I try to avoid pointless fights. I have had friendships where I refused to discuss certain topics because we were guaranteed to fight about it and it wouldn't accomplish anything.

Generally speaking, I am not looking to convince anyone I am right and they are wrong. But I also have no interest in capitulating as a means to keep the peace. We all believe what we do for a reason and there is typically a long, complicated history behind it.
posted by Michele in California at 1:56 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have this problem too. Here's what I do.

1. Hide everyone on Facebook who posts a lot of political stuff. This includes people whose politics you share, because their friends are going to comment on their posts and start arguing, and you'll get sucked in that way.

2. Today is not the day. Repeat this to yourself when you start to get pulled into a fight. It's short for "today is not the day that everything changes." In the story of this other person's life, this is not the day when everything turned around. He will not be talking to his grandchildren some day and say, "you know, I always used to think X, but one day I had an argument wih someone one Facebook, and from that day forward I always thought Y."
posted by Ragged Richard at 3:06 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have been a professional advocate working for health care reform since 2007 so people either seek me out for information on my issue, or try to bait me to argue with them. I am happy to discuss the issue with them whether or not they agree with my position - I can do a discussion like a grown up even about politics. But arguing is a waste of my time and I do not engage with people who are trying to bait me, period.

"The Vinny" that dancestoblue so excellently outlined above is terrific, Unfortunately I sometimes need to be a bit firmer than that, in which case my go-to phrase to end a discussion that I am not interested in continuing is "thank you for the feedback" with no engagement as to the actual content of the remark I am addressing.

My SO is a well known political writer, and sometimes when we are being social as a couple, people get excited about meeting him and want to get into deep political discussions. When he's not into it, he's taken to stopping by pointing to me and joking, "She doesn't let me talk shop on Friday nights" (or whenever.) I don't mind being the bad guy for him - maybe you have someone that is willing to do the same for you?
posted by deliciae at 9:55 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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