Over the holidays a friend of mine was flying home to see her family. It was a long flight, and the man next to her started chatting with her. They engaged in polite conversation for a while, and all was going well until the man started bringing up politics.
“I don’t know about you, but this country is going to hell in a hand basket,” he said, before proceeding to rant about gun control, the health care bill, and every other political grievance he had.
My friend finally smiled politely and said, “I should probably mention that I’m a Democrat. “
She then tried to change the subject to something less controversial but the man laughed and said, “No judgment”—which offended her even more than his political ravings. After all, why should he even imply that he would judge her because her political views differed from his?
Later on the man also brought up another taboo subject, religion, explaining in great detail why he was an atheist and how others had it wrong. My friend was desperate to return to her book!
Politics and religion are two subjects that should not be brought up if you’re chatting with someone you just met. They are highly emotional and sensitive topics, and you can’t assume that the person in the seat next to you shares your views. Like the man my friend encountered, you will more likely offend or alienate someone with your preaching.
Having strong viewpoints is good. But know your audience, and remember that practicing civility doesn’t mean airing your opinions to everyone in your path. An airplane ride or doctor’s waiting room is not the appropriate place for a political debate.
The Arizona tragedy over the weekend is an extreme illustration of how political issues can blow up. What we need is unity, not divisiveness. If you have even the slightest niggling that a topic will be too sensitive, personal, or controversial, skip it. You don’t want things to get heated, and, honestly, do you really care about the political views or religious outlook of someone you just met? Is it worth any potential drama to get a thumb’s up on your opinion from a near-stranger? No.
If someone brings up a topic you’d rather not engage in, or says something inappropriate, try to stay calm and simply change the subject or end the conversation. By getting worked up you’ll be stirring up more drama and things will get more heated.