Summer’s the season of family and high school reunions, neighborhood block parties and reconnecting at the cabin.
This summer? It’s the season of RSVP avoidance.
To Resist Severing Valuable Partnerships, several friends and co-workers have confessed that they’re bowing out of gatherings with neighbors, former classmates, even their own parents, to avoid heartburn-inducing political discussions.
I say, reconsider and please pass the butter!
Politics notwithstanding, we can — and should — take advantage of the many beautiful summer days still ahead with the people we still sort of like. All we have to do is channel the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Here are some gold-medal qualities to bring to your political discussions, compiled with an assist from top etiquette coaches and veteran politicos.
Preparedness. Awarded to those who crush it with extensive research and actual facts.
Curiosity. Maryland-based etiquette coach Kelly Frager gives the gold to those who dazzle with respectful questions, such as, “What are the issues most important to you this election?” giving way to, “How does your candidate represent those issues?”
Open-mindedness. Vaulted status to those who accept that there could be an iota of truth in what you are hearing. Sharon Schweitzer, the Texas-based founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, predicts a more solid landing with, “That’s an interesting way to look at it” or “You bring up valid points.”
Voice moderation. Gold medal to those who never raise their voice in discussing the candidates, no matter what the brother-in-law just said.
Subject-changing. Thunderous applause for those who deftly spin from an approaching diatribe to anything apolitical. All-around good questions: “I hear your daughter got accepted to Ohio State!” “Seen any good movies lately? “Where did you go on vacation?”
Exposing ourselves. Not like that. This gold goes to those who expand their community. “There’s a lot to be said about learning and playing and praying and talking to neighbors who are not like you,” said Adrienne Christiansen, who teaches campaign rhetoric at Macalester College. “As much as I love social media, it’s an echo chamber. We’re insulating ourselves from people who do not have the same backgrounds or ideas.”
Levity. You win by breaking tension with humor. You’re off the platform, though, if your joke is made at someone’s expense.
Avoidance. Yes, you can medal in avoidance. Play the “undecided” card, suggested Schweitzer. “Say, ‘I’m still evaluating the candidates and the issues and haven’t made up my mind yet.’ ” A respectable silver to those who say, “You know what? I’m just not going to engage in a political conversation today.”
Civility. Everybody’s a winner here. “I’ve had a lot of arguments with people who say you’ve got to fight back,” said Wy Spano, director of the Masters in Advocacy and Political Leadership program at Metropolitan State University.
While there’s no guaranteed political advantage for those embracing civility, “I just feel better about myself and my students,” Spano said, “if they continue to treat everybody as if they have some worth.”
Now go out and give it your best shot.
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