If you’ve ever been enrolled in a sociology class, especially one built on wide appeal for first-year students like SOC 104, you’ve met the person who has smugly prided himself on being a “devil’s advocate.”
Talking to people about politics and social justice is hard work. Many well-intentioned folk feel entitled to the energy of marginalized people — maybe they don’t understand the problem with police brutality or why abortion is a human right or how a baker’s right to choose their customers has wide-reaching impacts on the LGBTQ+ community.
There is nothing more aggravating than having a lengthy, seemingly productive conversation with someone who differs with you on an issue — and then they smile at you and say “oh, I was just playing devil’s advocate.”
The idea of playing the advocate for the “wrong side” in discussions of actual issues that affect actual people trivializes the problem. In order for two people to have a good, productive conversation about politics, there needs to be honesty on both sides. The devil’s advocate role is often a condescending effort to force someone to “improve” their argument — good for Socratic circles in high school but terrible for real life.
Political discussions are draining and hard to avoid. The increasingly volatile nature of politics has distressed casual voters. I know it’s difficult to reconcile the way we look at the world with the hard truths that the last few years have revealed.
There are a couple ways we can be kind to each other — don’t be disingenuous and don’t attack anyone for being emotional.
Your personal political affiliation is fundamentally and irrevocably tied to your ethics. In a time where the two-party system is intertwined with so many ethical questions — like children in cages at the border, climate change and taxation on the wealthy — bringing your personal emotions into the conversation is difficult to avoid, and that isn’t a bad thing. Feeling empathy for other people, and feeling frustration for yourself and the position you’re put in, is intrinsically human.
It’s a privilege to be able to separate yourself from the problems enough to view them objectively. A person whose family members are undocumented isn’t going to be able to “rationally” discuss the situation at the border. Someone who’s a natural-born U.S. citizen, who grew up in a middle-class family, straight, white — they haven’t experienced the types of oppression at stake. It’s time we stop thinking emotion is weakness.
The romanticization of the pre-2016 political scene shows just how happy a lot of people were when politics weren’t slapping them in the face everyday with their amoralism. Baby boomers tend to wistfully discuss the time when they were younger, when people who had differences could still grab a beer together.
Yes, this presidential administration is a caricature of previous issues, but those problems and attitudes were already there. Interventionist foreign policy and systemic racism did not begin, nor will it end, with the Trump administration. For many marginalized people around the country, being political has been a necessity for their entire lives, not just something that’s been thrown into sharp relief within the last three years.
Feeling deeply and, yes, perhaps irrationally, about political issues means that you’re truly invested in the good of others. While this may manifest itself in aggression, raised voices, or what appears to be intolerance, remember that passion brings change. An inability to detach yourself from the impact that actions have on the lives of others is not a bad thing, and I think we could all learn to care a little bit more and take the world around us more personally.
Meredith Shaheed is a Junior from Lawrence majoring in political science, history and environmental studies