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ianwilkins

Talking politics around the campfire

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Saturday night, there's two leaders sat around the fire with three of the Explorer Scouts, so aged 14-17. Yours truly is one of those leaders. Not sure how we got onto the topic, but the other leader started banging on about a particular hot political topic over here in the UK, and it seemed that no one else could get a word in. If he had been in the pulpit, he'd have been banging the bible with his fist, and gesticulating somewhat.

 

I fundamentally disagreed with his position,  but I kept my own council, preferring to (literally) walk away rather than get drawn in. I needed an early night anyway.

 

Then part of me felt I'd let those kids around the fire down,

a) they'd have to listen to more of the same

b) they'd only get one side of the argument

c) they probably wouldn't feel able to put their position forward with no one else there to interject or stop this leader from banging on.

 

I like a bit of light hearted conversation around the fire, and I don't mind if we get a bit deep or serious either sometimes, but should I have done something different?

 

Ian

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Welcome back....

 

Well, there is debate and there is discussion and there is confrontation.  Friendly and Courteous and Kind come to mind.  Sometimes humor can allow recognition and illumination of problems in argument.  Sometimes smiling and mentioning a personal experience can help.  Sometimes walking away and hoping for a chance to catch the fellow alone to ask him, gently, did he really mean that last night? 

 

My ex-wife's grandfather on her dads side was an ex-Ku Klux Klanner, even tho he lived in California.  I only met him once, at  dinner.  I remember when he sought to disparage Hank Aaron as a baseball player because of his African heritage ( I am cleaning up the language) I gently reminded him that the baseball didn't notice who hit it, but the bat might remember who it hit. The silence at the table was palpable.  My ex-dad in law later congratulated me, said he never liked the SOB either, and then told me of the old man's KKK  history.

 

I had an english teacher in high school. Our class somehow had gotten on to WW2 history and the subject of the Nazi atrocities came up.  One of the boys in the class (all seniors), obviously parroting his parents, said that most of that stuff was fantasy, made up stuff.  Our teacher got noticeably red in the face. He sat down on his desk and proceeded to tell us , very calmly and matter of factly, of his time in the Third Army Division, how they were the first to walk into Buchenwald and what he , himself, had seen.  Our friend got very quiet, even years later I remember his quiet.  

 

Pick your time.   Think about what to say, even now, it may help the next time.   Scoutmaster's minute here?    Letter to the Editor , to get it off your chest? 

Letter to the Scouter's Digest of your  Association?  

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I tend to keep my politics/religion away from the Scouts. I'm happy to chat about it with adults, but I don't need youth parroting my opinions and having their parents flip out. 

 

On the other hand, I do agree that if somebody else starts it, I think that's a great opportunity to encourage older Scouts to participate. If we make politics completely taboo around youth, then we will continue to have generations of politically apathetic youth. 

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Youth that age aren't stupid. I'm sure your silence spoke volumes.

Pity the chap. He'll be brunt of the kids' jokes for years to come.

 

Now, regarding enabling your kids to disentangle those issues for years to come, you need to find how to touch on the core difference where you part ways with this fellow. Then, find the moment, and it will only be a moment, where you can lay out to the youth that distinction in the most respectful way possible. At that time, you can ask them if they'd like to bring speakers in to talk about various views. A while back @CambridgeSkipper did something of the sort.

 

It's a lot of work, that path. Sometimes you do need to speak up just to quiet things down ...

 

I once, at summer camp, fended off one dad's conspiracy theory about a certain popular leader's religious persuasion by making a strong theological argument that I knew he believed.

Later, another dad came up to me and said "I can't believe you just called him a Muslim!"

I replied, "Not an insult in my world view."

The week went much better after that.

Edited by qwazse
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I tend to keep my politics/religion away from the Scouts. I'm happy to chat about it with adults, but I don't need youth parroting my opinions and having their parents flip out. 

 

Unless we are working on Citizenship in the Nation or World, I do the same.

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Ian

 

As Qwaze said, explorer age will have got it that you disagreed. Even older scouts fully get the nuances of how adults behave with each other. I wouldn't worry about the particular incident too much. Worth thinking about how to handle it in future.

 

I am a naturally political sort. I am interested in many different issues. Around the scouts I will tell them my opinion if they ask, most of the time though I will tend to listen to them but play a gentle devil's advocate. Certainly no table thumping. It can result in some interesting conversations.

 

And yes, last general election we held a hustings night with reps invited from the big 5 political parties. We got parliamentary candidates for Labour and UKIP and local council candidates from Green and Lib Dems. It was a great evening. 

 

In my job I am a civil servant and am senior enough that I am expected to stay neutral in my public life on party political matters so was only allowed to attend if I chaired the meeting! Most frustrating :)

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Until the adult crosses the line of telling the scouts they're wrong, maybe you just let him make a fool of himself. Done the right way, talking to older scouts about taboo subjects can be good. Most scouts don't have an opinion but those that do rarely get a chance to talk to an adult about them. They can learn about being civil under thorny conditions. I try to keep my biases out, play a bit of devil's advocate to keep them engaged, and ask a lot of questions. But, you had a thumper. So next time you're around the scouts when it's quiet, why not ask them what they thought?

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Thanks everyone. It's helped me put my thoughts in order.

 

I suspect that at least one, if not all three, will have had their opinions on the subject, whether they got to voice them or not I don't know, I expect they kept their own council, and yes, I expect it wouldn't have improved their opinion of the leader to be browbeaten on a topic.

 

I do prefer, for that kind of conversation, to let the explorers take the lead, maybe lob the odd thoughtful comment or question in, but otherwise let them work things out for themselves.

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I go to campfires to get away from politics and such. We get enough of the baffons on the right and the left on TV as it is. The last thing I want is one of their mouth pieces at campfire spouting off.

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There's an art to dealing with controversial issues.  I try and use them here on the forum, but obviously it doesn't always work.  None needs to be "in person" for a lot of the subtleties. 

 

Jeopardy - phrase everything in the form of a question.

 

Always speak in the third person.

 

If somebody's going to get hung, make sure it's the jury.  "That's not what I heard.  I wonder which story is the truth?"

 

Mention the platforms of the non-dual party candidates.

 

The Peter Principle is your friend, rely on him.  :)

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There's an art to dealing with controversial issues.  I try and use them here on the forum, but obviously it doesn't always work.  None needs to be "in person" for a lot of the subtleties. 

 

Jeopardy - phrase everything in the form of a question.

 

Always speak in the third person.

 

If somebody's going to get hung, make sure it's the jury.  "That's not what I heard.  I wonder which story is the truth?"

 

Mention the platforms of the non-dual party candidates.

 

The Peter Principle is your friend, rely on him.  :)

 

*chuckle* Oh dear God.... Is that working?

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I see any discussions at the campfire by the youth as a teaching moment.  

 

I have very strong political and religious views BUT I have the understanding of the values, motivation and beliefs of people who believe differently than me.  Maybe it was the experience of being on the debate team in college, but I understand that there are two sides to every issue and that each side has valid points.  I actually get along very will with people across the political spectrum - why? Because I understand the issues rather than just adopt the glib slogans that pass for political discourse.

 

One of Robert Covey's Seven Habits was to "seek first to understand than to be understood."  I tend to ask questions like "what is your opinion based on?"  "where did you hear that?" "have you thought of the opposing viewpoint?"  "would it change your opinion if I told you ______?" "what would happen to _______ if you did _________?"  Despite my views, I tend to be neutral in questioning all viewpoints because I want the people to learn to think critically and to seek more knowledge in forming their opinions.  I'd rather someone disagrees with me after examining an issue in depth and reaching an opinion based on their values than have someone agree with me based on a glib twenty second quip carried on the news.  So I focus on the "why" rather than the "what?"

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Nobody is absolutely right all the time, but then again nobody is absolutely wrong all the time either. It just boils down to what shade of grey you happen to like at the moment. Chances are you might be the only one that does. :)

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