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Discussions of Political Topics?

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Jack is a volunteer at the CCNY Archives. Before retiring, he worked at IBM for over 28 years. His articles have over 120,000 views.

discussions-of-political-topics

Introduction

This article was inspired by a recent event in my Writer’s group. In the past two years or so, I participated in a writer’s group at our local library. We would submit our writing samples to the whole group for critique and suggestions for improvement. The moderator of the group was our local librarian. She kept our group focused on the style of the writing sample and avoided comments on the subject matter. Some of my submissions were of a political commentary opinion piece and it was very hard for some members of the group to not voice their own opinion. I decided to write an article on what is worthy of debate.

- Mar. 2018

Background

We were taught from early years to avoid discussion about religion and politics and money during family gatherings or social events. This was very wise advice because these are three topics that some people have very strong opinions and are also very passionate. They evoke emotions that transcend our daily decorum and may lead to arguments and create unnecessary tension.

The question becomes when is a proper forum for these kind of debates. If we are to progress as a society, we need to discuss ideas and policies openly without emotions. We need to focus on solutions rather than motives.

At the heart of writing is communications. We all have ideas and thoughts that we wish to convey to others either our family and friends or strangers. These ideas can be controversial or just creative but never the less unique to our individual perspective. Politics is one area of great concern. Depending on our personal world view, we can have vastly opposing ideas on the same topic. How do people with opposing views reach a compromise or an understanding if we are not allowed to discuss them openly? That is a dilemma.

Never Discuss...

discussions-of-political-topics

What Are Some Guidelines...

It seem to me, there should be some guidelines before any discussion is conducted. We need some ground rules that is understood and agreed upon by all sides. That is how we keep the discussion focused on the topic at hand. We cannot let it be open ended and allow our emotions get the best of us.

Here are my ideas of ground rules.

  • No personal attacks
  • No call for violence
  • No name calling
  • Agree on topic to discuss
  • Separate facts from opinion
  • Fact check or provide references
  • It is OK to have opinions
  • All ideas should be welcomed and considered
  • Keep your emotions in check
  • keep an open mind

My Writer Group...

I belong to a Writer’s group that meets twice a month. Over the last few years, about 15 members meet and discuss our own writings and do readings and we go around the table for critiques and suggestions for improvement. Most members are very good and talented. I have gained from these sessions and believed they helped improve my writing skills.

The writings are varied and ranges from fiction to poetry and memoirs and short stories... I also submitted some political commentary essays in the past and they have generated controversy. The moderator, who is also a trained librarian, have kept the comments focused on the writing style and avoid comments on the actual content of my piece. Some participants have elected to opt out commenting which was a surprise to me. I guess they have so much emotions that it was hard to separate the content from the writing style.

Recently, another writer, new to our group, submited a poem that is political in nature. He did not understand our past history and just wanted to get feedback on his piece. I decided to opt out in this particular case. My objection to his particular piece was because it violated my ground rules. I have nothing against this person, just disagree with the content of his poetry.

My rules are simple and outlined above. My main point is not all political views are equal. Some are deep rooted in policy differences. Some are just name calling because they don’t like the person or their looks...

This brings me to thinking what is a valid forum for discussion of a political nature, and what should be allowed? And who is to decide?

I welcome opposing opions and please take the poll at the bottom. I am interested in opinions by others. Am I correct or am I opening a hornet’s nest?

discussions-of-political-topics

Is it Possible to Discuss a Writing Without Commenting on the Content?

Here is the big question of the day. Is it possible for anyone to be objective and critique a piece of writing, without including comments on the content?

Let’s take an extreme case as a hypothetical. Suppose a writer wrote a piece about the virtues of Nazism. The writer truthly believes that it is a superior form of government. Keep in mind, back in the 1930s, there were many prominent people in the US who believe this...prior to World War II and the atrocities of Hitler. If this piece of writing was submitted to a group to critique, what would be their reaction? Would they be able to keep their emotions in check and just comment on the writing style? Or would they bring up the facts that are well known and attack the piece for being a one sided biased view...

Regardless of the writing style, or tone, or even the mechanics, there are some topics that cannot be divorced or separated from the content. The subject matter, is the whole message. Without discussing the content, it is missing the mark.

Part of good communications is to inform and to invoke thoughts. We as humans have free will. We can pick and choose who we listen to, who we watch on TV, who we trust and who we like or dislike... Most people form a world view early in life. We get this from our family, our church, our teachers and our community. It is hard to see things from a different perspective. That is why it is very difficult to have a casual discussion at a family gathering. Some topics are complex and have many sides and not just the two main opposing sides. There are usually grey areas that are not addressed. Only in a discussion group, can we drill down and get to the root of the problem. Even if people are not convinced one way or another, at least they walk away with a better understanding of the opposing views. They are not crazy or ignorant or lunatic for believing what they belief. That in itself is progress in my humble opinion.

discussions-of-political-topics

Summary

In politics, all is not fair game. We need limits and well defined ground rules. My problem with the current environment is that avoiding the issues does not solve anything. How will issues get resolved if we are prevented from talking about them? A better alternative is to debate the policies and leave personal emotions out of it. It is not easy but necessary.

Poll

© 2018 Jack Lee

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