Politics: NSFW?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told politics and religion are the two untouchable topics, at least in polite conversation. During my first #u30pro chat a few weeks ago, where I mostly observed and found myself overwhelmed by all the awesome opinions shooting back and forth at warp speed, a particular part of the conversation caught my attention:

Co-moderator Lauren Fernandez asked, How do you deal with awkward situations?

Colby Gergen replied, Awkward situation? Bring up religion or politics.

To which co-moderator David Spinks replied, With a professional?! That’s worse than cursing!

That got me thinking about talking politics in public. In professional situations, especially when you’re trying to make a good impression, it’s sometimes best to leave those opinions unsaid. After all, in a new work environment you’re not familiar with office politics, and misstepping by cutting down a cause your new supervisor is passionate about can get you in hot water quickly.

But on the other hand, we have the First Amendment. While politics and religion may not be everyone’s favorite topics, we do have the right to respectfully express our opinions. And in some cases, it takes nothing more than a slight difference of opinion on one hot-button issue to get offended, fast.

I have some friends who love talking religion and politics – either because they are educated in their opinions and are willing to openly discuss and debate them in a friendly manner, or because they like to piss people off by making them discuss the issues that hit a nerve.

For me, personally, I’m totally willing to discuss those opinions with someone who I trust will respect me despite a potential difference of opinion. I’m not going to waste my breath trying to convince someone that my way is the right way, and I know it’s pointless for someone to try to persuade me of the same. But having healthy, open discussion of issues that often shape many other opinions has no harm, in my eyes.

“The fact that politics has found its way onto the list among otherwise sensible taboos speaks volumes about the failure of the political machine in this nation,” says one blogger. He writes about our discomfort over discussing the very workings of our country, and how our lack of opinion is not actually a lack of opinion, it’s a wishy-washy cover for beliefs we don’t want to offend people with.

Rebecca Thorman wrote a great post a while back on how Gen Y should discuss politics in the workplace, that the political stances we are unwilling to openly acknowledge will make us a cowardly, silent generation. And honestly, how annoying is that friend, who, when a debate is going on over where to go or what to do, remains silent and says they have no opinion on the issue? Pretty. Damn. Annoying.

I agree with Thorman in that, “Years from now, when I look back and reflect, I will know that I never, ever regretted opening my mouth, only keeping it shut.” The situations for which I hold the most regret are the ones where I took a passive, inactive stance.

But in an article from Business Week (that Thorman also cites), author Bruce Weinstein says, “a more appropriate perspective to take here—and with all issues concerning conduct at work and beyond—is to consider how our actions might adversely affect others and fracture the community of which we are a part.”

So which side do you take? Is political banter harmless, or is its threat of fracturing relationships too great? Do you have any other topics you try not to breach, even in the company of close friends?

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4 responses to “Politics: NSFW?

  1. Thank you for mentioning my work, Leia!

  2. This is a great lead-in to a post I want to write about how the workplace is both too nice and too inconsequential. There’s a great quote from Alain de Botton that I watched this weekend, that is something like – and I’m paraphrasing here – that you’re not at work to work, but to make it pleasant and to be nice to those around you.

  3. @Bruce: Thanks for reading! And for writing such an inspiring piece on an important topic.

    @Rebecca: I’m looking forward to your upcoming post, and happy to be a great lead-in! What’s your opinion on that quote – does Ehrenreich say that earnestly, or sarcastically? If she’s being honest, I think that’s a little crazy, but that’s just me.

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