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Opinion and Editorial

It's okay to be political but have a cordial conversation

Asha Iyer Kumar
Filed on January 26, 2020 | Last updated on January 27, 2020 at 11.36 am

If someone had said this to me 15 years ago, I would have dismissed it as an exaggerated response to a turbulent climate.

India has been in the thick of things for a while now. And it is changing our social interactions. A message from a friend, in particular, stood out for its poignancy: "It is sad to see friendships breaking in a minute, to see tussles within the family due to stupid political views."

If someone had said this to me 15 years ago, I would have dismissed it as an exaggerated response to a turbulent climate. For then, neither was politics so divisive nor were we so vulnerable. It was unimaginable that people would snap connections and toss away relations for having diverging ideas. But today this is as real as it can get.

We have been through such times before, when social and political dynamics revved up heated conversations, but never did we take them personally, denigrating them as we are doing now. Never have we passed judgments on our immediate associates based on their divergent views like we do now. What we are seeing lately is a mix-up of issues with identity, which is setting off acrimonious exchanges among families and groups.

Political stance matters and it carries high stakes, but when it begins to stir hostility between long-term friends and relations, it is time to pause and reconsider our positions. Positions not in terms of our beliefs, but in terms of how far we must go risking our rapport. Should bitterness supersede civility and good sense? Can't we disagree on matters without throwing the equations between us off balance?

It must have taken years for us to build our associations. And then the climate around us changed; there is turmoil caused by vested political interests that identify themselves by different hues and names. Suddenly, we are slotted as left, right, liberal, conservative and else, based on what we speak. Get-togethers become scenes of either verbal fisticuffs or cold silences. The mischief of a fluid world order seeps into us and makes us hypercritical of anyone who disagrees with us. We forget that our personal relationships are more profound than our passing beliefs, and the distances get cemented somewhere in the subconscious.

What we fail to understand is this: Our belief system is heavily influenced by political shenanigans and the reckless media frenzy created around it, which often makes us adopt a group behaviour. We de-individualise ourselves and unwittingly get caught in a pattern of behaviour. It becomes incumbent to take sides and be vehement about it, attacking the person instead of the idea. In the process, we end up hurting what has for very long given us our true happiness - our people and their love.

We may be many things in our discourses - avant garde, politician or just an informed citizen with polemical views. But at the end of the day, we are all kinsfolks whom we cannot ban or block from each other's lives even virtually just because we don't share common political ideas.

Aristotle summed it up amply when he said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." One cannot agree more.

Asha Iyer Kumar is an author & creative writing coach based in Dubai

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