The old warning to never discuss politics or religion goes unheeded by many these days, especially in the midst of a no holds barred presidential election season that both campaigns have cast as a battle between good and evil for the soul of a nation.
While acknowledging that that genie is long out of the bottle, Grove City College Professor of Political Science Dr. Michael Coulter ’91 offered some guidance on how to discuss political questions civilly this week on the Shaping Opinion podcast.
In the latest episode of the podcast from Pittsburgh communications and media consultant Tim O’Brien, Coulter talked about guiding students through issues in legal philosophy and political science and suggested that today’s vitriolic dialog had a lot to do with the fact that the public square has moved online.
“Social media has made it much easier for us to engage with others in ways that are not particularly helpful,” he said. “It makes it easier to engage in confrontation and creates distance between persons and it’s easier to lose our civility in that situation.”
Coulter offered up some advice for discussing political questions with family, friends and strangers.
Consider what can be gained from the interaction, he said. “Can you convince the person, bringing them to see the issue or the candidate more clearly, or are you doing it to make yourself feel better? If that’s the case, you’re probably not going to get far,” he said.
Coulter also suggests trying to “bring more light than heat” to these conversations in the form of more information instead of opinion. You may not win the argument, but you won’t lose the relationship. Building on that point, he said it is important to consider the other person’s perspective and understand how important someone’s political views may be to their sense of self.
“As you engage in conversations about politics, realize that these things are really deeply part of people’s identity -- who they are,” he said. “So to attack their party preference, their candidate preference or their issue preferences can be very personal for people, and realize that for that other person you’re not just attacking that party, that candidate or that issue, but you are attacking a part of their identity.”
Coulter, who chairs the Department of Political Science, is a go-to expert for regional media seeking insight on national political issues and regular guest on the Shenango Valley’s premier radio talk show, but said that Shaping Opinion is his first foray into the world of podcasting.
“Usually, I just talk to students and sometimes the media about politics, but I was intrigued by the opportunity to talk about how we talk about the passion involved in politics on this podcast,” Coulter said. “And trying to talk about politics in a better way would be better for all of us.
Check out the Shaping Opinion podcast here.