I’ve always been of the same mindset because there are topics you will never, ever change someone’s mind on: Politics and religion.
But you will almost always certainly make them so angry they can’t see straight.
Yet, here we are, in the most divisive U.S. election in history and people are losing family and friends because of what they’re posting on Facebook.
Truth be told, there are some days I can’t even get on Facebook because it’s so exhausting.
Then you add on top what is happening with guns and human lives and you just want to lock all your windows and doors and keep your family isolated inside.
So the advice to never discuss religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin really hits home.
But it goes back further than Linus.
Similar comments have been cited in print since the 1840s.
Of course, there also is the opportunity that, when opinionated people share their two cents, a thoughtful dialogue may result.
But, in many cases, the chance that comments will be labeled distasteful or—worse—be considered offensive is extraordinarily high.
And when you do it in the written form—without the benefit of tone of voice, body language, and the sparkle in the eye—tensions run even higher.
So what should we do when current events create intense and emotional reactions?
Leaders are Used to Keeping Personal Feelings Under Wraps
The easy way out is to ignore or refuse to acknowledge what is happening.
A great example of this is the Melania Trump plagiarism scandal.
I am willing to bet every, single person reading this blog post has an opinion on it, no matter which side of the fence you are on.
Was it a sabotage job?
Did she do it knowingly and on purpose?
Did someone on Trump’s team sign-off on the speech without checking its accuracy?
Who is responsible? Who should be fired?
(The answer, it turns out, is no one.)
As leaders, many of us are used to keeping our personal feelings and opinions about sensitive topics under wraps.
After all, it is okay to have an unexpressed thought and often, we’re better for not taking the bait on a controversial topic no matter how much we’d like to.
But it’s far better to keep your mouth shut than risk angering clients and prospects, who are not only your livelihood, but that of every person you employ.
Conventional Wisdom is to Separate Personal and Business Politics
As a rule, I would never advise a client to discuss any topic that can be interpreted as divisive or exclusionary.
In fact, my husband—who works in Democratic politics—hears the same advice from me over and over again (sometimes he listens; sometimes he doesn’t).
In the U.S., conventional wisdom is to separate our personal opinions from our business dealings.
Unless you’re in the news-making business or a high-profile advocate of an on-going cause, saying and doing nothing publicly is the best course.
That said, there are times when we have to speak up.
I don’t mean joining a protest or posting a 300-word rant on Facebook, even though there are times when that would feel really great in the short-term.
Instead, we can take events that affect us personally and use them in a way that allows others the space to share, as well.
If you’re a team leader or business owner, your staff looks to you for guidance on how to handle sensitive topics in the office or in conversations with clients.
What Is Okay
Talking about and acknowledging personal feelings is okay.
Let people know it’s safe to share that they’ve been upset by or saddened by current events.
Use empathy to honor the feelings of others without trying to “fix” or offer advice.
Be honest about your own feelings.
The people you work with are going to know if you’re upset, depressed, or feeling agitated.
Most of us aren’t good at hiding it with people we interact with on a regular basis.
Being superman or superwoman isn’t going to help you or your team.
If there is a desire to take action or get involved, allow others the ability to provide input and leadership around what is appropriate.
Give clear and specific guidelines if the company is going to be involved and to what extent you can participate (if at all).
What Isn’t Okay
Assigning blame or taking sides in an effort to create or sanction divisiveness is not okay.
It is possible to acknowledge there has been wrong-doing without leveling accusations.
It’s also possible to offer sympathy to those who have been injured without demonizing the cause either real or perceived.
It’s never okay to make it personal.
I cringe anytime I hear the phrase “you people” and, in highly charged, emotional times, it’s incredibly hurtful.
You can see that happening right now with the debate between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter.
Of course all lives matter, but that isn’t the point of Black Lives Matter.
The point is they matter, too.
Make sure you lead by advocating for change or a solution without making it about someone or a specific entity.
There’s always a time for taking a stand and speaking out.
I want to do that, too.
(You should see how fired up I get when people post on Facebook that bicycles don’t belong on the street. Oh, the internal rants that never leave my mouth!)
But I also want to be part of an effort to reduce the rage and feelings of futility and create a place and a method for having conversations that help all of us understand one another.
Let’s Solve Our Differences Instead of Demonizing One Another
I want to be part of solving our differences instead of taking a side and demonizing anyone who isn’t with me.
Because of how strongly I feel about solving our differences, I feel sorry for Melania Trump.
Can you imagine being her right now?
She’s married to the most divisive man on the planet right now and she has to read and see what everyone says about him.
Not only that, but English is not her first language, yet she got up on stage and spoke in front of gazillions of people—both live and on television.
How many of you have done that?
I get nervous speaking in front of 20 people, let alone gazillions.
And all we’ve done—all of us—have torn her down since Monday night.
What she/they did is not right and heads should roll, but the social media mob is not kind.
We live in a time when our every thought can be shared with those sitting beside us and hundreds, if not thousands, via social media and broadcast tools.
It’s a beautiful thing we can harness for noble purposes.
But it can also be used for great, great harm.
Linus didn’t have any idea that we’d all be able to discuss the Great Pumpkin so easily or he likely would have kept it to himself.