Perspective
Do Mix Dinner and Politics!

Introduced: September 30 2012

 


Do Mix Dinner and Politics: Or How to Engage Diverse Opinions, Learn Something and Have Fun at your Next Dinner Party

Here's a new look at the old advice that the way to keep friends and be polite is to avoid talking about politics and religion. IWD member Sandra Baer offers four tips -- and she hopes you'll use them to ignore that old advice.

By Sandra Baer

Sandra lives in Washington, D.C. and enjoys its lively, pulsing environment and the kinds of diverse thinking it encourages. Professionally, she has traveled the U.S. and the world, opening conversations for the sake of her clients as well as pursuing her own varied interests, always with her radar attuned to fresh ideas. Read more about Sandra in her bio below.

I have friends who say we should never talk about religion or politics in social settings.  Rubbish! For me, these are two topics that get to the heart of our passions and help us understand what makes people tick.  After you discuss the latest golf shot, the most recent football trade, the hottest fashion idea or celebrity scandal, it can be great fun to talk about what matters: Why do we hold certain values? What is the essence of leadership?  How do our self interests shape our political beliefs? Can we learn to explain complex issues in simple terms?

 

I believe it is up to each of us—in our daily conversations with friends, as we talk to our business colleagues, at home with our children and even at dinner parties and social occasions where politics may drive the news of the day—to talk with civility, to listen respectfully and to honestly try to understand other points of view, even if we don’t agree. 

 

Let’s not shy away from these discussions:

 

So here is your assignment: Host a “salon.” Have fun with this idea and consider actively, deliberately practicing your civility skills.  Be a model for others and help your friends and colleagues listen to how they talk about their beliefs.  Now, pretend you are at a dinner party with friends. Some you know better than others; you do know that a variety of political persuasions are at the table.   And follow these four rules:

 

1.      First, a little prep work: Whatever your source of news or information, spend time reading or listening to both sides of an issue.  In fact, consider finding a commentator on the “other” side that you respect, and listen to his/her ideas.  Commit to knowing some facts to support your beliefs.  This is the most difficult recommendation—it is hard to understand tax policy or international relations or US entitlement programs or the energy landscape.  It is also difficult to stay current….but if you care about a topic, make the investment to get smart about it.

 

2.      When you’re at the dinner, remember to enjoy the conversation—talking about what matters can be fun; hey, you may actually learn something. Keep an open mind, actively listen to your guests, don’t interrupt, don’t take personal offense and keep smiling.

 

3.      Indulge your natural curiosity. Be mindful of the milieu and be aware of the power of your words. Really try to think about your prejudices (we all have them) and how you express your ideas.  And remember, a dinner party conversation is not about being right.  It is about acknowledging and appreciating a diversity of opinion and enjoying the discourse.

 

It is ultimately about your curiosity, your interest in finding out about what drives our beliefs—curiosity is the unique characteristic that makes your mind active instead of passive and opens up new possibilities which may be hidden from view.

 

4.      And most important, never say all Republicans do X or all Democrats think Y. (We heard enough of that at the political conventions, right?) But at your dinner party, try not to lump a political or ethnic or religious group into a homogenous set of actions or beliefs. First of all, this is naïve; second, it is simply not true.  For many years I worked for a wireless company, pitching the value and importance of our product to state and local elected officials.  As I traveled around the nation working with both Republican and Democratic Governors, Attorneys General and Mayors, I gained a great respect for public servants. It was a gift in my life to truly understand that there are good guys and bad guys on both sides of the aisle.

 

Remember, most of us who have taken time to think through our opinions are not extremists.  I consider myself a social liberal and a fiscal conservative; I have strong opinions and am happy to talk about them, but I am not a “wacko extremist” and neither are your guests.

 

No matter who wins the election in November, we are probably all in for more partisan divisiveness.  But you can do your part to change the conversation.

 

If we are lucky, we will continue to live in a society that values different opinions and ideas.  Ideally, our respect for other ideas will help us find common ground for solutions to today’s daunting problems. Mixing dinner and politics may be a fun way to move the needle.

 

If you have read this far, you might look at this example: Earlier this month Allan Sloan and Geoff Colvin from Fortune magazine wrote a piece entitled, “Enough Already!” offering a common sense proposal for steering America’s economy out of its rut.  I personally like their recommendations—you can read them for yourself at http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2012/08/16/washington-economy-fix/. Even more, I like their idea of compromise: “…every change gores somebody’s ox, which is why the ancient art of political horse-trading has to be rediscovered in Washington.”  It is just one example of seeking a more mature resolution to tough policy decisions.

 

As you host your next dinner party, be a good listener and be mindful of the value of diplomacy.  Let me know if you are successful…who knows, maybe we can re-inspire a truly “civil” civil society.  

 

Best of luck,

 

Sandra

To add your thoughts to to Sandra's perspective, please respond to topics@iwdialogue.com

Note from IWD: Sandra just may be the inspiration for salon-style dinner parties among our friends and us, and she's encouraging a concept that has a lot in common with Intelligent Womoen Dialogue -- the idea that people with different views can express them, listen to each other, expand their own thinking, and come away a little more engaged in what's taking place in our world. Think of IWD as a giant round table with conversation enlivened by pasta and pinot noir -- only without the table, the pasta and the pinot noir. 

BIO: As a business development professional Ms. Baer’s career has focused on the value of relationships and the ability to identify strategic opportunities to win business. She is currently an Affiliate of Mercator XXI, an international professional services firm helping clients engage the global economy.

Prior to joining Mercator XXI, Ms. Baer was the Lead for Client Development at Bloomberg Government in Washington, DC and initiated high level contacts across six industry sectors to support the 80 person sales team and win new business from major corporations, non-profits, state and federal government agencies and the U.S. Congress.

Prior to joining Bloomberg, Ms. Baer was the Principal for Business Development at Ridge Global, Governor Tom Ridge’s consulting firm. She secured new clients, directed client engagements and advanced the business, political and security interests of the firm’s clients. Ms. Baer directed the firm’s participation in an international consortium to capture business in Saudi Arabia. She was the principal lead for major clients in the wireless infrastructure, telecommunications and cyber security arenas.

Ms. Baer’s professional life has focused on relationship marketing, business development and external affairs. She has experience in the communications industry—telecommunication, wireless, Internet, broadcasting and cable—and has an extensive background in government affairs, homeland security and public safety preparedness and resilience.

Prior to joining Ridge Global, Ms. Baer directed External Affairs at Nextel Communications. She developed the strategy and led the implementation of Nextel’s public sector external presence around the nation by forging relationships with federal, state and local government leaders. Responsible for raising awareness and building business among Governors, Mayors, Attorneys General and public safety and homeland security officials, Ms. Baer served as emcee for Sprint Nextel Conferences in the top 50 markets across the nation and managed the consulting relationships with Rudy Giuliani, James Lee Witt, Wesley Clark and Frank Luntz.

Throughout her career Ms. Baer has concentrated on crafting and executing strategies to build an enterprise or strengthen relationships. At Discovery Communications, Ms. Baer devised the marketing and promotions strategies to launch 11 websites in 6 languages for Discovery.com International. She has held senior positions at BellSouth, Speechworks and Cox Communications.

Ms. Baer has served as a board member on a number of professional and civic organizations: iKeepSafe Coalition, the National Defense Industrial Association, the Women’s Leadership Council at Meridian International Center, the Chesapeake Crescent Initiative and the Washington Bach Consort. She is currently a Senior Advisor to the Center for National Policy.

Ms. Baer recently completed the Global Advanced Management Program at Georgetown University, Esade Business School in Madrid. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Missouri at Columbia and a MBA in Marketing from Georgia State University and American University in Washington, D.C. Ms. Baer lives in Georgetown and is the mother of two children, Laura and Paul.

 

 

 

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