Politics and the Solstice

Summary: Discussing politics at a holiday event is very tricky. Sometimes there may be a good reason to, but I’d ask anyone running a Solstice to think very carefully before doing so, and exploring other options first.

Secular Solstice is about facing difficult, challenging truths and figuring out how to use them to make the future better. And for many people coming to Solstice this year, the most challenging truths they’ll be experiencing right now have to do with the US election.

Historically, I’ve made a conscious effort to not talk about present-day politics at Solstice – not because it’s not important, because discussing it is particularly tricky. Not just government politics – any time large groups of humans have ended up in conflict with each other, it becomes *much* harder to think critically, to listen empathetically. It lends itself to an us-vs-them mentality, to expressing anger and outrage.

There is a time and place for anger and outrage. They help provoke us to action when we might feel powerless. But there is also a time and place for bringing as many people together and reminding them that we are ultimately on the same team – the team that values reason, evidence and compassion, and using those tools to make the world a better place.

Not everyone is on team reason-and-compassion. There are people whose active goal is to hurt their enemies, or gain power. And there are people who actively disagree with reason, who think changing your mind is a mark of weakness. They are welcome at Solstice but it might be an alienating experience for them. That’s fine. You can’t please everyone.

But different people have experienced different evidence, might have different filter bubbles or biases and believe different things about which policies have which effects. It’s *valuable* to have people with conflicting viewpoints – keeping each other honest, sharing news and ideas you might not have thought to consider.

Politics is tricky. If possible, I’d recommend addressing things indirectly, through metaphor. If you feel it’s really important to talk more directly about it, here are some thoughts and suggestions:

Issues, not people. Problems, not solutions

There are important things that *are* worth talking about – how to solve climate change, how to address racism, how to improve education. But you can talk about these without talking about ideological opponents, painting them as bad people working against you.

For present day issues that are still under hot debate, I’d recommend going a step further: talk about the issues, but don’t use Solstice as a place to discuss concrete solutions.

Oftentimes, solutions need to be complex and nuanced. It’s hard to communicate complex solutions in a compelling story at a community event. It’s also important not to ritualize solutions, because as we gain more evidence it may turn out that our preferred solution is no longer the best one.

Solstice is about creating traditions that help remind us to think critically, to always seek out new evidence, to never let our search for truth ossify.

My Approach in New York

At the Solstice I’m running this year in New York City, I decided to address the US election in a very circumspect way. I felt that to completely ignore it would feel tone-deaf – it’s been very challenging for a lot of people to process, and Solstice is a time to come together and process things. But we’ll be addressing it through metaphor, telling stories from humanity’s past that can shed light on our future.

At the beginning of 2016 I had decided to theme the event around smallpox eradication. I’m sticking with that focus, but tackling it from an angle that hopefully will feel a bit more relevant in the current climate.

People will have space to interpret that in a way that feels right to them, without worrying about anyone telling them what to think.