My whole life I was interested in politics, intrigued by political discussion, and motivated to form political opinions and discuss them with anyone who was willing to engage. I deeply believed that my political opinions and beliefs were a fundamental part of who I am and that politics were a powerful proxy to understanding others.
In recent years, however, my approach to politics has shifted. I have generally withdrawn myself from almost all forms of political discourse. How is it that my convictions about justice and morality in politics have turned into indifference, willful ignorance and political abstinence?
Let’s take an overview at political discourse these days. Here are some things that, perhaps, we can all agree on:
- Politics are a source of increasing divisiveness in society.
- Political discourse has become combative, toxic and unhealthy. Healthy political dialogue is virtually non-existent.
- Social media contributes to and exacerbates the negative aspects of our political discourse.
Considering all the headache and heartache that thinking about political issues introduce, why would I not choose to distance myself from my own convictions? Why not choose to distance myself from those negative feelings?
I’ve heard some say that I have a responsibility to form opinions about certain issues. Maybe, but when one examines that perspective more closely, you should ask: How much of an impact, precisely, can I really have on political justice? Is my Facebook post just another voice echoing self-affirmation in an unhealthy discussion environment? Do I really believe that I can convince someone who is sitting behind their screen of my opinion (especially when this someone may have been desperately waiting all day to get upset about a Facebook post)?
No, not anymore. In fact, it’s not even worth sacrificing the mere time that it takes me to write or think about these things.
Alternatively, some may view the approach I have outlined above as irresponsible, ignorant or lazy. It is; you are spot on. I pick my battles and neglect others. Fortunately, I have found that my policy toward politics does not reflect on other aspects of who I am and the life I live. In general, I am not irresponsible, ignorant or lazy. Actually, it has become a central component of my approach to separate between who I am and my politics.
Others may say that not picking a side is immoral, and that I have a duty, at the very least, to try to do good in the world. I may be ignorant of politics, but since I still believe that being a good person is important, this argument is compelling. I do, nevertheless, challenge this notion, as well. It is unconvincing that when I voice my opinion or when I choose to not stay silent I am contributing something good to the world. Instead, I find it much more rewarding to try to do good with my actions, to do good in my community or in my immediate surroundings. This more personal view of doing good is, in my opinion, crucial but sometimes neglected in favor of political like-mindedness.
Should we be writing off people just because they have a different political opinion than ours? Should we have so much conviction regarding our political beliefs that we are willing to create a toxic, unfriendly, unhealthy environment for discussion, dialogue and thought? There may be some good, smart people who are deterred from engaging in the political discussion because of this unhealthy environment (although I have yet to meet them).
And so I asked myself if that is what I want. It is not.
I challenge you to join me and consider political abstinence. What harm can it do?