Did Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, exhibit proper etiquette when confronting Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., at the State of the Union address? Should one engage with their boss on a political topic? How does one handle it when an acquaintance initiates a political conversation that doesn’t align with their beliefs? In these divisive times, successfully navigating those awkward and all-too-common interactions is an important skill. Straight Arrow News contributor Jordan Reid details some firsthand accounts, and has tips to help people overcome their differences and keep the peace.
I read an article the other day in New York Magazine about the “New Rules” of etiquette, including making tipping your extravagance – yes, concur – and “no name-dropping celebrity nicknames.” He may be Bobby to you, but let’s call him Robert DeNiro in polite company, shall we? One topic the article didn’t cover, to my consternation: How to gracefully navigate a world in which everyone has an opinion, and wants to tell you that yours is wrong.
I know the pandemic’s effects are still making themselves known, and we’re all still in the process of remembering how to function in restaurants and on planes and such – but what I’m talking about is basic, straightforward human communication. Small talk, if you will.
The conversational landscape is so incredibly fraught these days. The etiquette surrounding not talking about things like politics, or money, or, I don’t know, trans athletes, or even who uses what bathroom when using which body part has completely dissolved. And in many ways that’s a positive thing. We’re saying the quiet parts out loud. But this increased willingness to communicate one’s views, it seems to go hand-in-hand with a total belief in their absolute, factual accuracy. And the vastness of topics that politics have seeped into have left seemingly everyone with an opinion on seemingly everything.
The other day, I struck up a conversation in a nail salon with a woman who referred to the pandemic as a “plandemic.” It took me a minute to follow what she was getting at, but by then another woman a few seats down had, you know, given us a look and was warning her, or maybe us – I don’t know if I was included here, to watch what we say. To be clear, I had no horse in this race; I just wanted to get my nails done. I went with Ferrari Red, by the way.
Another example: At my child’s scout meeting, I got into a conversation about vaccines – just terrible idea across the board, but it wasn’t my choice – and a couple of parents I was talking to were medical professionals. But they were anti-vax, and I’m pretty sure they were anti-Ukraine, so maybe they were pro-Russia, and they were also very into wellness, and all of this was way too much for me to follow.
So what does a person who does not want to get into the minutiae of politics over a quick polish change do?
I think step one has to be: Assume you don’t really know what the person you’re talking to has been through. They could be coming off a nice long chat about Chinese spy balloons with their Aunt Gwendolyn, or might have just read an article that’s gotten them rightly or wrongly fired up, they could be grieving a loss. Or they could be going through their own personal issues that you have no idea about.
Step two, If you have the emotional bandwidth, which you know – sometimes, I find that asking questions always works. If you want to engage and share your own opinions and response, sure, but do that understanding that your conversational companion may not be up for a listen. And when all else fails? Just do what I do at the scout meeting: say, “you know, that’s interesting, but I don’t really follow politics.” And then, if you’re me, cross your fingers and hope they don’t have Google.