Sunday, September 7, 2008

It's Getting Hot In Here

Campaign '08 is heating up and so is the debate in my home.

I do not come from a family of debaters. I do not come from a family that even discussed politics. I can vaguely recall asking my mom, in '88, who she voted for and her reply: "It's rude to ask people who they vote for." From then on I saw election day and politics in general as topics that should not be discussed in polite company. I wasn't even sure of my parents' political affiliation until a few years ago when my uncle, a die-hard Dem and political science dept. chair, made it clear when he told me "Nobody hates George Bush more than your mother."

And then I married someone raised in a completely opposite tradition. He is a debater. His family is very vocal about everything, where mine (excluding aforementioned uncle) generally sticks to pleasantries. He is used to verbally duking it out and upholding his political views, while I like to keep things friendly and do whatever I can to avoid conflict.

Not only that, he has well-established viewpoints. On the opposite end of the spectrum in more ways than one, I am only now developing my political views.

We are both pretty laid-back, he more so than me, and we agree on pretty much everything.

Except politics.

Working in the news industry, I am "up" on Campaign '08. As you can imagine, once I brought my developing opinions and daily observations home, they have been the source and topic of increasing debate.

Maybe some people would love the opportunity to talk politics with their significant other, but I am starting to think I should stick to my roots and consider politics taboo. Though I confess when we get into a heated debate, I am immature about it: I get really frustrated and upset and take it entirely too personally. I actually get very angry sometimes.

As much as I hate debate, to my credit, my skills have improved a bit:

  • I've stopped cutting him off and saying "end of conversation!" after I've made my point; because I realize that's not fair.
  • I've stopped throwing out weak answers ("because it's 'Change I can believe in!' " "because I hate her!") and started trying to back my views up with actual facts or informed opinions.
  • I've visited the GOP's and McCain's Web sites, listened to some speeches and read their views to form educated opinions of what the "other side" is saying.

But still, I don't possess great arguing skills and I hate being wrong or not agreeing. So this whole thing has brought no end of frustration for me. In contrast, political debate is one of his favorite pastimes.

I think the problems arise when I go out on a limb to present and defend an idea I just formed or adopted, and he shoots it down with well-formed and thought-out rhetoric. Oh, it just burns me up! Therein lies the problem: I see it as a personal attack. He sees it as an engaging debate.

I need to find a way to turn this around to something we can both enjoy.

Do any of you have this problem?

I thought of James Carville and Mary Matalin, and appreciated this tidbit from the FAQ on Carville's Web site:

"They are ... very devoted to each other and ... their family time. For these reasons they have so many other things to talk about than those things that they know are going to divide them. They don't 'avoid' having political discussions but they do avoid getting into heated debates ...

"Above all, they respect one another and respect the fact that they have very different views but share many common goals."

Maybe we just need to adopt this attitude in my home. Any advice you have is welcome, too!


Stephanie J. Robertson said...

when it comes to politics, me and thomas enerally agree- for the most part. i have stopped talking about politics altogether for the most part though, becasue:

a) i am not as informed as i should be if i am actually going to debate with anyone

b) thomas and i were saying that when debating anything- there are two subjects that you will never change anyone's mind on and that is politics and religion.

religion and politics are two things that people feel so strongly about- they hold such convictions about. i have yet to have a nice discussion with anyone who does not feel the same as me about politics. i think people take things so personally because of their convictions. so, yeah, i feel like i am rambling, but i can definitely identify with what you are saying and i feel ok with just staying away from it at this point in my life.

i think we even got rid of our anti-bush t-shirts when we moved. what's the point of shoving THAT in people's faces :)

Stephanie J. Robertson said...

ah, so so many typos in my comments... so sorry copy editor cousin. :)

modestmuse said...

LOL, I don't pay attention to typos when I'm not in "mode," so no worries (though sometimes it's hard to switch back and forth when I'm perusing the net at work ;) Thanks for your point of view. I think you're right that it will probably never be productive for us to talk 'tics. Not to change minds but even just for "fun" because it's not fun!

mj said...

In most groups when politics comes up, I keep my trap shut or leave the room. I don't like conflict and especially yelling. I'm kind of a wimp that way, but I absolutely can not think when there is yelling happening and I hate not being able to think. I've noticed that some people think it's a good sport. On the other hand, I am absolutely fascinated by ideologies and why people think the way they do, so when I meet someone that phrases things like, "Well I can definitely see your point on that, but the reason I see things differently is . . ." and they do it in a calm tone, I am pretty excited. The miracle is that Chris and I are generally in the same ballpark AND of the same style. We might disagree on specifics but are generally close on basic principles. The funny thing is that we BOTH come from families that would disagree with a lot of our views. My family is generally able to discuss things relatively calmly, which is pretty amazing as this has not always been the case. I fear that Chris' Grandma would start having a seizure if I told her, "Yes, that is an interesting email forward, isn't it? Not bad for amateur fiction. Me, I actually kind of like Obama."

nomadic gnome said...

I can relate. I get into heated debates with my S.O. and I love it. He hates it. Whenever we start discussing these topics he feels the contention heating up and backs off for fear of "ruining the night". It might have something to do with the fact that sometimes I personally attack him on his viewpoints.

But I am trying to get better.

If you want some more back-up reasons to hate on the McCain/Palin ticket, here's a interesting statistic: Palin and McCain both want to drill. 2 months ago, Palin told a reporter she believed the USA could "Drill their way out of any problem." Terrifying for so many reasons - the top reason being that by drilling all American oil sources, it would represent a 0.2% increase in the worlds oil supply. Not even one percent! What is the point of wasting so much money on drilling only to ruin the environment for a resource that will be depleted within 11 years in the US. Facts.

Sorry for the diatribe. Energy is all I know right now. But I do believe that debating can be healthy for a relationship, just remember that its not personal - its business. Its not personal. Its business.

Taralyn said...

Sorry gnome, I think you have just named a positive :) haha. No changing the mind of a environmental scientist though :) Argument has been such a big part of our entertainment over the years that it's not likely to change. If you can't adjust then just ask him to argue with others. I hope as soon as you leave the toxic realm of the ever liberal media you will see the light though hahaha :)

Tara said...

i am the "arguer" in my marriage and jason usually gets really upset when we fight. i usually think it's just a good, heated discussion! i have learned that i have to cool it sometimes and i also remind jason that sometimes arguments are healthy and productive for a relationship (you learn about yourself and about eachother, plus it shows that both people are invested. no conflict=no investment!) long as violence and hurtful comments don't creep out! whats most important is how two people resolve the issue. it sounds like you are learning to stay more calm and not take it personally and that should help. it takes practice! i don't get as angry about certain things as i used to!

Megan said...

MJ -- and Taralyn -- I'll probably have to keep my opinions to myself around his family, or it could get very ugly -- mostly for me!

NG, I think I'm seeing a trend here, the ladies are generally the antagonists. So I don't know what that says for the role reversal in my relationship. Anyway, don't personally attack him! Poor guy haha. I like the energy slant on your reasoning, thanks!

And Taralyn, I don't see how .2% can be considered a positive. But that's OK, the "liberal media" will help you see the light -- shining on the facts :D

Tara, you're always the MSW, thanks for the advice. Don't worry, I think we're evolving in our understanding of one another, so like you said, it's productive. Even if it's annoying :)

Iggy Bloggit said...

i agree with mj about how its phrased. i had this conversation with r2 the other day, about giving it qualifiers. if neil were to say, "i heard..." or "i agree with the statement..." or "so-and-so says," rather than just saying things as though they are absolute truth, maybe it would be easier to take his opinions as opinions rather than feeling he is just out to prove you wrong.

btw thanks for your email i am writing you back!! but wanted to share that above statement with the whole class.

Taralyn said...

Just know Megan that we think you are the most wonderful thing in the world :) I hope we never back you into a corner and make you feel like you can't express yourself around us :)
If we do, yell, scream, cry, or anything to get our attention. Hey, that's what I do hahahaha!

Moni said...

OH my gosh megan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh how are you! add me to the blog to your friend list, I am so glad you found me.. how are you!? i miss you! ahhh

modestmuse said...

IB, thanks for the e-mail, I have some reading recommendations for you to pass on.

Taralyn, you are so sweet :) You guys never make me feel I need to resort to drastic measures, but good to know there is a proven course of action.

Monique! I'll post the deets to your blog.

Linda Robertson said...

Being the wife of the aforementioned uncle, I can so relate to your problems with debating with your significant other! Especially the part about immature responses, taking things personally, and getting very angry. I say hurray for you. You've already learned lessons that took me much longer to learn.

modestmuse said...

Thanks for your point of view, Linda. I'm glad it doesn't mean this will be an eternal "issue" haha. It's definitely a growing experience for me :)

Shauna said...

Hey Megan! Surprise! I'm having fun catching up on everyone this morning. I've been making a very tentative foray into the blogging community -- my blog is at this point just about Emily's diabetes and my feelings and trials of dealing with it.
As the daughter of the afformentioned uncle, I thought that I'd just weigh in and say "hahahaha!!!" Your comment about my dear old Dad made me laugh a little and then almost cry because it made me miss him, devil's-advocate and all. Yeah, I'm so with you on not debating. My family can really get into it, and I feel so uncomfortable.
I also thought your comment about your mom's response about her vote was so interesting, because my mom and I had almost the exact conversation at some point too.
Scott and I don't exactly agree on politics, and I can remember one presidential election where he was still pressing his point of view on me as I walked out the door to go vote! But he doesn't really like conflict either, and we have a similar feel for when a conversation has crossed the line, so we have gotten good at pulling back. Of course we have 16 years of this behind us. You'll find that line where you are both happy, I'm sure!