How to Talk Politics without Losing Your Mind

This campaign season is the craziest since Robert Redford ran for President. Or was that just a movie? Hard to tell the difference these days. The good news is, you can actually have a political disagreement without wanting to throw yourself into the Potomac. I call the technique Aggressive Interest.

 Instead of arguing against your crazy uncle’s stupid, witless, fact-free opinion, look really really interested. Then ask for three things:

1. Definitions.

Ask him to define every term. “What do you mean by ‘illegals’? What exactly is this wall? What does ‘sending a message’ entail? Who gets this message?

2. Details.

Ask for facts—numbers, trends (“Great anecdote, but how exactly is the problem getting worse nationally?”), cost, predicted impact, laws that would need changing.

3. Sources.

“That’s amazing! I had no idea 5 million Islamicist Mexican rapists crossed the border every day! Where did you get this information? From a reputable think tank? A government agency? A peer-reviewed journal?” (Try to be careful not to sound sarcastic here.)

What can you expect from Aggressive Interest? People asked to drill down into definitions, details and sources often end up modifying their opinion on the fly. “Well, maybe not 5 million a day, and not all are rapists, and they’re not terrorists exactly…”)

Over the longer term, your eager questions may plant a grain of doubt in the oyster of their mind, giving them just a bit of itchy doubt. Thinking about definitions, details and sources destabilizes opinions over time. In other words, you mess with your uncle’s beer-saturated mind.

Besides, if all else fails, your questions are bound to drive the guy crazy. Which, in a mean-spirited way, constitutes a win. For you.

Here’s a video I made on the technique. Try it and let me know what you think.