What My Momma Told Me About Talking Politics: A Lesson Learned The Hard Way

I HATE the election.  I understand that as an American I’m supposed to feel empowered as I see democracy at work.  I’m supposed to be excited that because I am a good citizen and registered voter, the country lets me (yes, ME!) help in choosing our leader.  I’m supposed to appreciate the privilege to vote and know that if I were a young Afghan girl, I would do anything to get out of my arranged marriage much less choose the most powerful leader in the free world.  But, with the dawn of social media, it just seems so…….DIVISIVE. Instead of those warm, fuzzy ‘Merican feelings I’m supposed to get, the election makes me feel alone, and it makes me dislike people I thought I respected.

You see, when I was very young my mom told me something that really stuck with me.

There are three things you don’t talk about:  Religion, Politics, and Money.

(As I got older, sex got added to that list, but that’s not what this post is about.) Why, I asked, don’t you talk about religion, politics, and money? Because, she told me, it can make people change the way they think of you.  And for a while, I think I did a fairly good job with this.  When my 4th grade classmates were discussing that Bill Clinton wanted to (gasp!) let gay people into the military, I kept my mouth shut about why I didn’t think that was a big deal.  In high school, when Al Gore and “Dubya” were arguing about abortion, I sat confused while my peers were outraged.

Growing up liberal wasn’t easy, but because of what my mom told me, no one really knew what I was.  I didn’t talk about politics because my mom told me it wasn’t polite.  Simple, right?  Then came college.  Who doesn’t rebel in college?  I argued politics with my professors, my classmates, my boyfriend, his parents.  Do you think I convinced a single one of them that “Dubya” wasn’t in the nation’s best interest? Nope.  Here’s what I did do.  I convinced them that instead of a nice, reasonable although strong-willed girl, I was a crazed hippie without a good head on my shoulders. (Insert a picture of “Liberal Girl” superhero, obstinately waving her stem-cell research flag in your face.)  That’s what arguing politics does.  It makes people see the worst possible scenario of what you are.  I went from being a cute but stubborn education major to a wild pothead lesbian who wanted numerous abortions.

Talking politics distorts reality and makes you a cliche of what you stand for.

My mom really knew her stuff.

As life went on, I alienated several boyfriends from conservative Republican families before I learned to share only when asked.  When I met my husband, he saw things my way for the most part.  Looking back, I wonder if Joe agreed with me politically because he loves me and thinks I’m smart or if he just wanted to rebel from his own conservative Republican family.  Either way, we voted in our first presidential election together.  I was lucky enough to be surrounded by UCA liberals who were there to console me when John Kerry fell to “Dubya.”  Joe chose to follow my mom’s philosophy of not talking about it at work.  We were ok.

Obama’s campaign against McCain was a whole different ordeal.  Social media gave all our friends and acquaintances an outlet through which to express their personal, and often silly or hateful, views on the opposing candidate.  And here, I began to see what I’d done to myself through college where others’ perceptions were concerned.  My friend’s mother stopped being the quirky lady who loved to craft and turned into the racist weirdo who thought Michelle Obama wanted to brainwash America’s youth.  My neighbor turned from the sweet old lady who baked cookies into the woman forecasting the demon Apocalypse to be lead by Barack and the boys.  My mother had struck again:  I was changing my opinions of people based on the political opinions they shared.

So that brings me to this year’s election.  And the hateful posts from both sides that are constantly filling my Facebook and Twitter feeds.  This election year, there’s even been some people who insist that if you don’t talk about politics via social media, you don’t care about the election.  Far from true!  But my momma also told me something else:

Only talk politics with friends you want to lose.

And I don’t really care to lose any friends.  Facebook and Twitter are too wide of an audience to start a debate, and feelings will be hurt even if there are the best of intentions.  I hate the way people throw their politics out there like they don’t care about my ideas of them changing.  I don’t want to be “that person.” I have chosen social-media-political-silence because, while the election is important, it is not as important to me as the people in my life and keeping them close.  Will people know what I think?  Sure, I don’t exactly hide it.  But friendships will not be damaged because I carelessly threw people material with which to judge me.

So don’t think for a minute I devalue this election or our democratic election process.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming that I am apathetic or indifferent.  I’m just following some of the best advice ever given to me, and in doing so, I’m enabling you to respect me despite our differences.  How American is that?

God Bless America (and really smart Mommas)!

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