5 Tips To Talk About Politics And Power And Not Die Trying

5 Tips To Talk About Politics And Power And Not Die Trying

By Linda Cuellar

Let’s say your crazy aunt is visiting. The one who climbed out the window at night when she was a teenager. Let’s say she’s calmed down now and is ready to lay some good wisdom on you.

Here’s what she has to say about a dirty subject hardly anyone wants to talk about: The “p” words: politics and power.

Why are politics and power such touchy subjects? We’re really hesitant to learn that that close-to-the-heart friend or relative thinks about something important in a different way than we do, and that disappoints us. But this aunt is bringing up both politics and power even if it makes a hairball mess. Maybe some good conversations get started. Also, how well is it working for us by not talking?

A Deep Dive on The P Words: Politics and Power

1. Begin where you are

Informed political action, whether it’s voting or volunteering, should always start with issues, values, and concerns we deeply care about. I learned to write my own Ten Commandments after reading The Happiness Project. The first of the Linda Commandments may be the most important, “Let Linda Be Linda,” which it's never too late in life to learn. I don’t like salmon because I prefer prime rib, and I avoid scary movies because I already studied for years with nuns.
How to talk about politics and power

Preferences are a good doorway to understanding politics. We like what we like and don’t like what we don’t. What are a few of the things that matter most to you? Writing a list of ten things that you care about deeply tends to clarify your ideas. Your list could include loyalty, freedom, family, animals, oceans... That list could lead to stepping away long enough from streaming video, Cheetos, or whether to get personally involved in the next election; or just as importantly, volunteering to read superhero comics to little kids at the grade school near you or across town.

2. Move the focus outward and extend the timeline

This one takes more than a few days or weeks, but pays off in big dividends. Start with the folks that you see most frequently. Take the perspective of a researcher collecting information by asking questions rather than giving your perspective. Besides, you already know how you feel! You’re trying to find out what and why people think about their lives, their homes, opportunities, their state, country, and the world. What are their concerns and what solutions do they believe in? What are you learning and how does it stand up to what you used to think?

3. Check your inputs

What sorts of news, views, and opinions are you consuming? Is your information diet skewed toward conspiracy theories and fear-mongering, or do you have a news-free diet that helps you control your anxiety? Watch your use of social media, print, and TV for a day or two to see if you can identify if your diet is on or off balance. Eli Pariser offers some help understanding the kinds of political content the Internet feeds us, based not on seeing both sides of an issue, but on our previous browsing patterns, keeping us online, in our bubble and making content providers tons of money.

4. Revisit the Classics

What book or film first took the top off of your mind about politics and power? The ABC’s of power and politics have been laid out for viewing by anyone in books and films that are more than beloved. They are timeless and tireless teachers about us humans and our power plays. Here, in no particular order, are some of your Tia Linda’s favorites that made her the cranky old aunt she is proud to be:

  • A Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
  • Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
  • The Diary of A Young Girl (Anne Frank)
  • All The President’s Men (Woodward and Bernstein)
  • The Most Dangerous Man in America (documentary by POV/PBS) 
  • Animal Farm (George Orwell)
  • Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)

5. Don’t Believe Everything You Think

This is so hard to do when our conversations have become so guarded that disagreeing with each other is often perceived as dangerous. I know Michael Jackson references are tricky right now, but I'm going there. Start with the wo/man in the mirror. Check the validity of your beliefs with these relatively short reads on politics and power:

  • Hans Rosling. "Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - and Why Things Are Better Than You Think." (I fell in total love with this man watching his great TED Talks).
  • Timothy Snyder. "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century."

A first version of this article appeared in Linda's blog.

All photos: @la_nostalgia_ 

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