Gentleman's Advice: Navigating Political Quagmires in Relationships

Andre Furtado

Andre Furtado

In life, there are few more frustrating experiences than becoming embattled in a political debate with tenets you vehemently disagree with especially in close interpersonal relationships. So, what should you do when your roommate or co-worker starts barnstorming for candidates or policies you find odious? In the case of a roommate, it is almost inevitable that the topic will arise. When there is stark disagreement, there are a variety of tenable strategies to deflect the dragooning force of interpersonal discord. The best way to avoid the morass of disagreement is to quickly change the topic before the collateral damage of invective becomes an overriding impetus for dissolution. Another ruder way of dealing with a roommate who starts to barnstorm for another political quodlibet is to yawn and then change the subject. This is a somewhat rude gambit, but it shows disagreement in a way that serves as a deterrent for future political discussions while making it manifest that you object to whatever is being broached.

Most of the time there is some common ground between liberals and conservatives. In this case, it is best to focus on a shared quodlibet — like bipartisan medical skepticism — without embroiling yourself in prickly specificity that might impugn another’s beliefs for either naivety or cold-hearted pragmatism. Some topics that might be tenable in a workplace environment might be such topics as the Trade Wars and the actions of the Federal Reserve or otherwise issues that are not as polarizing as abortion or Universal Health Care. Sometimes people have the folly of vociferous officiousness and they speak with candor about an enumerated belief system with scornful snide against the patrons of the party they despise and touted pragmatism for the parties they believe in. In this case, at work, you can try to ignore the person or quickly change topics, but for some strong ideologues these strategies are only a temporary abeyance. Forced yawning is a somewhat rude way to interject, but it is better than dragging out a lengthy diatribe that oppugns both persons’ beliefs until the point where it becomes internecine. The mild chiding yawn is a strategy I have witnessed among friends and it seems to work most of the time because it shows opinion without exacerbating the folly of damaged trust. Sometimes these people think they can proselytize intransigent people to empathize with the Astroturf geometry of procrustean conformity and sometimes this occurs when superiors above you make it clear they lean one way or another on a divisive subject. In the case where the politics of your boss is the incendiary issue, the yawn approach would be very inopportune and inappropriate. The best way to handle a noisy political boss is to propitiate him by using subtle casuistry that neither balks nor agrees with his contentions such as a quiet nod and then a patient sufferance until a proper moment arises to change the topics rather than waging war with superiors.  

In the workplace environment, sometimes politics are necessary evils, especially when it comes to the fiscal strategies of political gamesmanship that relate to the fortune of the corporation you work for. If, for example, you work for Amazon and you hear Elizabeth Warren excoriate the company and vouch to break it up with antitrust legislation to fund Universal Health Care, you might see some polarizing agreements form that create solidarity against one person’s candidacy without endangering the solidarity of partisanship. Necessary political discussions often occur in the workplace, but I strongly advise avoiding topics such as the purported ‘concentration camps’ at the U.S/Mexico border or even worse issues like abortion. Sometimes even gun control can rile up conservatives and, since it is relatively irrelevant to your job description, it’s important to focus only on fiscal policies that relate to the industry you work for. If there are disagreements, be dainty with tact and voice disagreement without getting into a heated donnybrook because it is much easier to propitiate your coworkers and agree to disagree then to flaunt your ideological plumage as a protrusion of conspicuous pride for your opinions.

In the case of roommates, I find that the stupefaction of alcohol can often create a hotbed of internecine discord about vehement opinions in the political sphere. Sometimes you might just have a loudmouthed roommate without tact. In either case, trying to change the topic may not be enough. You might just have to say neutral commentary with phrases such as “that isn’t the worst idea I have heard the Republicans say” or “I applaud some Democrats but I disagree strongly with some of their policies on issues of conscience”. These statements diffuse tensions and enable you to show your common ground rather than duke it out in sclerotic controversies that are so brittle it creates incendiary conflagrations of destructive debate that can scuttle relationships quickly. From my personal experience, my father and I disagree about politics but my grandmother and mother both agree with my political leanings. Whenever my father becomes a strident ideologue it often leads to ruffled feathers and, sometimes, he resorts to hyperbole. In those cases, I often try to change the subject, but when that fails, I try to calm the disagreements rather than feed further diatribes against the partisanship I support. As a centrist, I have the luxury of careful diplomacy by agreeing with some opinions from both parties but disagreeing with other as well. In this case, it makes it easier to navigate political quagmires because being a centrist libertarian is oftentimes a compromise solution that works to forge bonds with people in a bipartisan way. Whatever way you lean, you shouldn’t make it your solemn mission to convert people who disagree with you because peer pressure often just polarizes opinions even more. In my educational history, I have encountered research on judgment and decision-making that says arguments tend to make people more intransigent about their stance in a disagreement. Based on these sturdy findings, it is best to know who you agree with and who you disagree with, and in cases of agreement, it might be good to joust with solidarity about opinions you share. Nevertheless, be very chary about how you engage the subtleties of broached politics because the recoil could become very deleterious to certain relationships.