It goes without being said that the 2016 election has brought about more havoc within society than anyone ever could have anticipated. Sadly, it seems as though this year has been punctuated by more hateful, angry conversations than any other. Estranged relatives are becoming the norm, and a lot of friends are losing contact as a result of political disagreements. I think this can be partially attributed to the fact that many of us get so riled up by politics that we're unable to decipher the right and wrong time to express our opinions.
When the entire nation is so divided, it's easy to want to attack and/or defend every comment that anyone says within your immediate proximity. The truth? The more frequently you vocalize your difference in opinion, the less powerful your words become.
I've learned this the hard way. I'm a very passionate, opinionated person -- a quality that doesn't always suit the likings of other people. For a while, especially during the election, I felt that it was my duty to speak up about what I believe in. I felt that with so much rampant hate visible in the world, I couldn't just stand by while that hate was perpetuated.
To a certain extent, that's not a bad mindset to have. The country needs more people to speak up who haven't necessarily felt comfortable doing so in the past. Those voices are so important right now. But for those of us who have not been shy about our beliefs, it's crucial to understand that you can't fight every battle.
I am the first to admit that this is hard. I recently heard someone make a huge generalization about people of color, followed by a sexist remark. I didn't know what to do. Should I address both remarks and risk being perceived as ridiculous and (since I'm a woman) shrill to the receiver? Should I choose to address only one of the remarks? Should I ignore both and go about my day?
I think the most effective way to navigate these decisions is to consider the person you're speaking to. And, in my experience, there are two main categories that a person can fall into.
The first type of person, which I like to believe most of us are, is the reasonable human being. People who you love and respect are another sector of this group. In this case, if the comment is severe enough, I would suggest calmly expressing your own opinion. If they are truly reasonable, or if they love and respect you back, they'll probably be willing to hear your opinion. (Although, if the comment is minor or incredibly obscure and you know they didn't mean any harm from it, sometimes it's best to let it go.)
On the other hand, we have the aggravator. Meaning, is this person known to get a rise out of people? Another sign is if he or she is prone to bringing up politics to unsuspecting strangers.
More and more, I've been trying to distinguish between these two personas and plan my responses accordingly. Of course, there are exceptions to every situation (like if the comment is appallingly offensive), but for the most part, I try to avoid getting into heated conversations with people who aren't worth my time. Because, in all likelihood, they're not going to change their minds anyway.
It's still uncomfortable sometimes and I get agitated staying silent, but since I've limited my responsiveness, I've managed to conserve a lot of energy. Debating with someone who is unwilling to consider other perspectives and is fueled by another person's aggravation is extraordinarily draining. Similarly, if we all responded to every Facebook post that we disagreed with, we'd be remarkably sleep deprived.
I've found that when I limit my battles -- when I try to remain calm and put in my two cents where they count -- my opinion is more respected than if I pounced on every little trivial detail. It's great to stand up for what you believe in, but like anything, there is a time and a place and, in this case, a person. Not everyone is worth your time and energy. The sooner this is recognized, the sooner your voice will be valued. And that's a pretty good feeling.