Viewpoint: In politics, you're not always right

The government shutdown might finally be over, but our political problems are so far from being finished that we may as well book a ticket to Mars and start over. Like religion and reality TV shows, politics is a topic that seems to quite often bring out the worst in people. Having kept a close eye on the shutdown talk both in the media and in our classrooms and homes, we feel like we need to make something clear right now.

You are not always right.

In fact, you’re much more likely to be completely, utterly, painfully wrong. And it would really do all of us a favor if we all realized that, accepted it and calmed down.

Take, for example, the segment on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” early this month where they went around asking random people whether they thought Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act was better. Most people were adamant about one or the other and went on for several minutes about why one was better. Which is great and all, except, you know, they’re the exact same thing. Experiments like this have been done over and over again with different political topics, and it always turns out similar results. People don’t actually know what they’re talking about. They just like to think they do.

There are many reasons for this. For one, these people are being put on the spot, and our brains are very good at making us think we know something that we don’t. That ability to logic away stuff is what makes us such a fascinating and adaptable species. That talent is especially active when under stress, though it could also be a dangerous dose of pride.

Another reason this happens not only on camera but in more normal settings is because politicians as a rule are really good at telling people what they want you to think. Slap a nickname on something with the intent to subconsciously label it as a problem, and the audience will do the rest of the work for you, thus “Obamacare.” It’s not entirely clear who came up with that term, but you can bet lots of people think they know the conservatives did.

Very rarely will people check their facts on their own. There just isn’t enough time in a day to read through the entire Affordable Care Act, so of course we’re going to ask other people or listen when someone with authority talks about it. Quite often those people of authority are in black suits of propaganda and on a platform of personal agendas. Really, it’s like listening to a salesperson from a for-profit company try to sell you their products. They want you to buy their thing instead of their competitor’s, so of course they’re going to be biased. Of course they’re going to make their side look better. Of course they’re going to tell you what you want to know and think in a way that will benefit them. Politicians are door-to-door salesmen who enjoy the benefit of already being in your home. Like the rest of us, they are not always right. In fact, you should just automatically assume they’re wrong and check the facts yourself.

Whether people know the facts or not, though, they’ll certainly defend their stance to the bitter end. Quite often, they seem so utterly certain that the people they’re talking to share their exact opinion, because why wouldn’t they? It’s obvious which is the better option.

Please, when you’re talking about politics, don’t assume the person you’re talking to has the same beliefs. We end up either wanting to slap you or ignore you or both. Be open to other opinions. They likely know a fact that you don’t, even if it’s just as hidden in half-truths and catchy nicknames as your facts. Most of the time, we don’t even try to argue back, because with people who assume everyone they meet is in the same political party, we know that even hinting at another opinion is like leaking fresh blood in shark-infested waters. Most people will get to the point that they won’t even try to argue anymore, instead resorting to pathetic name-calling and open attacks on the individual rather than the topic at hand (Piers Morgan, we’re looking at you).

As in any area of life, please have some manners and basic consideration when talking with your fellow humans. Not everyone shares the same opinion, and that’s the way it should be. Accept that you’re not always right. And then do something about it that doesn’t involve tearing other people down.