Do you avoid talking politics? Have you unfriended people you otherwise love and care about? Have you written off entire groups of people God loves? Have you ever posted something you thought wasn’t political but others thought it was? Are you starting to feel a little stressed out right about now?
Maybe the thought of sitting down at the dinner table with all your relatives spikes your political anxiety. Or maybe you’re in a LifeGroup with friends from church, and politics is the one thing you know you can’t bring up. No matter what situation you’re scared of, we’ve probably all been there. Someone we care about references racial injustice, or a policy, or a politician, and you make the decision to either hide, make a nervous joke, or turn into some version of yourself you don’t really like.
And right now, it feels nearly impossible to avoid talking politics. If you address something you care about, that might be a political statement to a family member. If you don’t address it, that might be an even stronger statement to a friend of yours. So what do we do when politics seems to be so divisive around the world?
But first, let’s make it clear that this guide is mostly written to people who live somewhere where it’s safe to share your beliefs. If you live somewhere where talking openly about politics could bring harm to you and your family, much of this article will apply differently to you.
How to Talk Politics With Kindness
Here’s a quote from Mr. Rogers, spoken through one of his puppets on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: “If we get too scared about fights, we’ll never do things together.” We have to move past fear and talk politics differently. With kindness. In fact, here’s a good rule of thumb to remember:
Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29 NLT
So, here are a few ways we can start talking politics with kindness.
1. Talk to God about it first.
Are you ready to scream at someone? Talk to God about it first. Tell God how frustrated you are with systems, people, ideas, media, laws, etc. Ask Him for His perspective. Ask Him for joy, patience, love, hope, and peace. Ask God to bring peace, wisdom, and protection to your political leaders. Ask God for His will to be done, not the will of a party or country. Not your own will. His will. It’s great to pray for specific policies and people, but stay open to God’s propensity for doing things differently than how you imagine.
2. If it matters to you, reach out.
If an issue matters deeply to you, reach out to your elected officials. This is surprisingly more effective than yelling at your TV (we’ve all done it). Actually, many officials count phone calls, letters, or emails that they’ve had on issues to help them make decisions on how to vote. So, if something matters to you, take two minutes to call, email, or write to the appropriate elected official. This turns political talk into action that can affect people’s lives for the better.
This also works for your friends and family. If you can’t talk in person, a phone call is so much easier than text or social media. If someone you care about leaves a confusing or frustrating comment on something you posted, give them a call or get together to talk about it.
3. Turn enemies into friends.
This isn’t the first time a country, or specifically the United States, has been divided. During the height of the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of Americans were killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. This loss of 620,000 souls along with the wretched sin of slavery might seem far back in the past, but it was only about 155 years ago. A little less than two lifespans before the writing of this article, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln delivered an address in which he referred to Southerners as human beings who had made grave mistakes. When a listener scolded him for not speaking more harshly against his enemies, Lincoln replied, “Why, Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
Lincoln wasn’t the first to think this way. Jesus talked about enemies too.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.” Matthew 5:43-45 MSG
When you read Jesus’ words, how does it change the way you want to think, talk, tweet, reply, pray, and post? Jesus stood up for what was right, but He did it with restoration in mind.
4. Be honest and humble.
Don’t lie or hide your thoughts, but don’t act like you’re right about everything either. This takes courage—often less than 10 seconds of it. Author Brené Brown actually started counting how long the discomfort lasted when she said something courageous, and she averaged about eight seconds. Next time a conversation starts that you’d normally run from, try out some honesty. Next time a conversation starts that you’d usually dominate, try out some humility and resist the urge to be seen as right.
5. Listen more.
Ears are better than mouths at hearing what others are saying. But listening isn’t just being quiet. Listening is also about asking meaningful questions, trying to understand rather than just respond, and practicing open body language (relax your eyebrows, uncross your arms, etc.). True listening assumes you don’t already know everything.
6. Choose a beginner’s mindset.
Next time you step into a potentially political conversation, imagine you’re learning to skateboard. One misstep and the board goes flying from under your feet, sending you flailing to the ground in the most vulnerable way. So what do you do? You are gentle. You move slowly. You abandon assumptions. You pay attention to what others might have to teach you about the topic. You choose a beginner’s mindset.
7. Fully understand multiple perspectives.
This is not just about getting your news and information from many different sources (though that seems like a good idea). This is about discovering an explanation that you can understand for the perspectives that you both agree and disagree with. If you stand for something without understanding it, that leaves you without anything to stand on. Jesus referred to that as building your house on the sand (Matthew 7:24-27). Likewise, do not disagree with something without fully understanding the reasons and evidence for why others agree with it.
8. Get to know people who are different.
This almost seems too obvious. But if it were, then we would all have a diverse group of friends of all ages, races, places, and perspectives. The human life, death, and resurrection of Jesus can be your guide here. His purpose for coming was because God “so loved the world.” The world. The whole world. All of it. Period.
Maybe you’re reading, but you’re not sure you believe in Jesus as the Son of God (good for you for taking in multiple perspectives). There’s plenty of research showing that diversity increases financial returns for companies, reduces oversight in decision-making, and increases innovation and problem-solving. Either way, getting to know people who are different than you just has a way of filling in parts of your life that you sometimes didn’t even know you were missing. In fact, when you get to know people who are different, the political theories in your mind become people in your life, which might be the most important ingredient to talking politics with kindness.
9. Know your audience.
When Jesus was preparing His followers to tell the world about the good news of God’s grace, He said in Matthew 10:16 NIV: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Jesus is essentially saying to know your audience. Tread lightly like a snake, but with good intentions like a dove. This applies to how Christians talk politics, because everything Jesus says about living applies to all aspects of how Jesus followers live. So, we probably shouldn’t talk about every single idea we have with every single person. Be wise, sensitive, and know your audience. Yes, Jesus flipped some tables, but more often He sat down at them to share food and conversation.
10. Share to be known, not to be seen.
Share your thoughts as if the person who asked you a question wants to know you more than they want to know that you’re bright, right, or aware. So, instead of broadcasting every political thought on social media, share what matters and why—with people who seem interested in you. It’s not wrong to share political ideas online, it’s just so much harder to have positive conversations full of listening, learning, and kindness. So, when you do share something there, be ready with extra patience, grace, and respect.
11. Share personal experiences more than reported opinions.
The people you know and love are interested in the experiences that have shaped you. Talking politics doesn’t have to be scary. Choose to extend kindness and see the other person you’re talking to the same way that God sees them. That’ll change your conversations, and it just might change you, too.