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Regardless of whether you swing red or blue, you would have to be willfully blind to have not noticed that political differences have become serious issues instead of minor complaints. Friendships have ended because each person sat on a different side of the aisle, and the conservative-liberal spectrum has managed to estrange family members from one another. The mere idea of civil debate has become a thing of the past and has been replaced instead by social media mobs who do not bother to check facts or follow anything resembling manners. Instead, everything from insults to death threats fly as fast and furiously as keyboard warriors can type. Given this atmosphere, it is acceptable to talk about politics in public?

There is no reason to self-impose a gag rule on any political discussions in public simply because some people either have forgotten how to disagree like adults or never learned how in the first place. Love them or hate them, politics are important to modern society. They are how laws are made and change is enacted in the country. Politics determine how people will be allowed to live their lives and where the government will have power as well as how it will be allowed to wield that power. Discussing politics is an important way of remaining involved in the processes that govern the nation. Mutually respectful discourse allows people to refine their own ideas, engage in debate with other viewpoints and gain a better understanding of both today’s problems and solutions. It is in public places where you are most likely to be having such discussions with friends, coworkers or other acquaintances. If a moratorium was put on having civil conversations about politics in public, there would be few places left to have those conversations.

The key word in all this is “civil.” Any topic that is likely to end with you getting into a shouting match is probably not fit for public places. Whether the issue at hand is a political debate on immigration, accusations against your spouse about cheating or arguments with your siblings about money that they owe you, any discussion that is unlikely to be civil is probably best held behind closed doors. No one should air their dirty laundry to a bunch of strangers, and frankly, most strangers have less than no interest in seeing said dirty laundry.

Exercise common sense when discussing politics. If your cousin starts practically frothing at the mouth at the mere mention of N.R.A., a coffee shop is probably not the best place to debate the finer points of the Second Amendment. On the other hand, if your sister-in-law is perfectly capable of maintaining an inside voice and language that is fit for use in front of your grandmother, there is no reason that you cannot discuss immigration policy over a glass of wine.

In addition to being aware of who you are discussing politics with, think about where you are having said discussion. Most people are well aware that anyone who wants to have a peaceful time online should avoid mentioning politics in any way, shape or form on the internet. If you decide to have a Facebook debate about abortion and find your profile page buried underneath vicious comments the next day, why are you surprised? You are still allowed to have such discussions online, but do so knowing that, rude and stupid though they are, the self-proclaimed thought police will be there to digitally crucify you a few short hours later. There is something to be said for refusing to give in to the intimidation tactics of the many keyboard warriors who go looking for fights on Twitter and Tumblr, but there is also a lot of truth to the idea that debates on the internet are really far more trouble than they are worth.

There are real life places where political discussion are a bit uncouth as well. No matter how much you loath your mother-in-law’s stance on international policy, table the politics until after your little brother’s wedding is finished. Similarly, funerals are pretty much off limits for such things.

When it comes to where you discuss politics, exercise the same common sense as when you are choosing with whom to discuss them. A bar full of people who just attended a pro-life rally may not be the best place to explain to your cousin why you are pro-choice. You have every right to do so, but some people feel that hearing an opposing opinion in a public place is reason enough to shove their nose in other people’s business. Unless you feel like getting an impromptu speech from a complete stranger, other topics might be a better idea until you and your cousin are back in the car.

Everyone has an opinion, and everyone has a right to voice their opinion regardless of their ethnicity, gender or level of expertise. In correct opinions and neutral opinions such as “I don’t care” are allowed, and you do have the right to share them in public. You are free to announce a baffling political opinion in a coffee shop just as you are free to declare in a restaurant that the sky is actually orange. People may look at you like you are insane, but you are allowed to say it. Political discussions are not subject to any more rules than any other conversation. Be respectful and tactful, and there is no reason you cannot debate immigration at a restaurant table. Avoid raising your voice, swearing, exchanging insults or anything else that would not be acceptable in a public place. Keep in mind who you are talking to just as you would with any other topic. After all, you would likely not start talking about children with someone who just buried their son, so it may best to avoid discussing your opinion on Israel with someone who just lost a parent to a terrorist attack. Political debates between a pair of friends from opposite sides of the aisle are no different from discussions between two mothers-to-be about whether children should be breastfed or not. Opinions are not suddenly subject to different rules simply because the dialogue is coated in red or blue. Political speech is still speech, and the actual law is very clear on that in America no matter how much some people want to change it.