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Opinion: Pass the salt, please, but I’ll pass on politics at the dinner table

We should have vigorous debate, but we should also recognize when to put it aside.

I am the son of and husband to two women who I don’t always agree with politically.  I’m guessing that I’m not unique in this regard. Many couples and families are made up of people of all political viewpoints. They make it work, and often, work well.

How?

I can’t help but wonder if they, like in my family, hold to a pretty time-honored rule: No politics at the dinner table.  

Cory Gaines

I don’t mean that literally; I have had lots of political discussions with family at the family table.  I mean rather, that we recognize that we don’t agree and honor the other person’s views enough to not proselytize constantly; we recognize that there are times and places for lively discussion and times and places to lay off it.

The latter has felt especially important to me of late.  I enjoy following and talking politics and the issues of the day. I do so regularly at my Facebook page

I also enjoy breaks from politics. It sure feels lately that those get fewer and farther between. It’s gotten to the point where I feel resistant to read new books, watch new movies, and watch sports because I can’t get away from politics.

I have absolutely no problem with listening to viewpoints I disagree with.  Rather, I seek them out:  I read op-eds from people who I know I disagree with, I listen to Colorado Public Radio, I talk politics with people I don’t see eye to eye with.  

This isn’t about avoiding a shock to my fragile worldview.  It’s about wanting to turn my brain off.  

Sometimes I just want to be entertained. I want to come home from work, put my feet up and turn off my brain. I want to see villains defeated. I want to see portraits of quirky characters. I want to be moved. I do not want a sermon seven days a week; I don’t want to be confronted no matter where I turn.

I wonder how many people share that view anymore. I read a Forbes article recently about a software company that had about a third of their employees quit when the owner said, basically, no politics at the dinner table. He didn’t tell people what to think. He simply said to leave what they think at home.  

Can you believe that a full third would rather leave their job than do that?

I fully understand that there are some who believe so strongly in something that they choose their workplace to match their values. I used to work at a school that was filled with people like that, myself included. We were all dedicated to the school’s mission of helping low-income, minority students get to college. 

What happened at the software company feels substantively different, however. I never felt that my school or my colleagues had to have the same values in order to work together. I never felt that my school had to echo every value I held dear to work there. I never felt that I had to be able to discuss politics to ably carry out my job or for the school to run.  

As a matter of fact, as a centrist conservative and registered Libertarian, my guess is that we wouldn’t have agreed on much.

Given our success at helping kids despite our differences, I find it baffling that a large percentage of software company workers would feel a need to pack up and go elsewhere when told they couldn’t talk politics at work. Is there something unique about software that makes this so?  I hate to say it, because I think it may be the first signs of my slow creep into old age, but I must ask where the world is headed these days.  

We should have vigorous debate, but we should also recognize when to put it aside. I want to talk politics and engage with others on it, but I don’t want to live in a culture where everything must be saturated until visibly dripping with it.  

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

I am OK with being reminded that others see shortcomings in our country and how we do things, but I don’t need a moral lesson everywhere I turn my head.  

I’m (fortunately) still relatively safe in unplugging from electronic things to escape, and I do so regularly. I am finding, however, a narrower and narrower band of new things online, in movies, and in print where I can get away. That’s too bad.  

Despite my near-elderliness, I do want to see new things and would find cutting off media younger than 10 years old confining.  Our lives would be richer with room to breathe.  Our children would be better off — knowing and appreciating balance in life.

Please, can we make a new (old) rule?  No more politics at the dinner table.


Cory Gaines, a college instructor in Sterling who runs the Colorado Accountability Project on Facebook, lives for what Richard P. Feynman called “the pleasure of finding things out.”


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