How to be a Good Neighbor at Election Time, Online and Off


In my last post I looked at why being a good neighbor/citizen means exercising the right to vote. Today I list ways to be kind to others during the election season, when emotions may run high.

There’s that old admonishment to “never talk about religion or politics,” but during a highly contested election it can be difficult to sidestep the topic of politics altogether. Especially with how interconnected many of us are on social media, we now find our news feeds filled with well-meaning (or not) family and friends expressing themselves with frequent clicks.

Here’s my list of  ways to be a good and kind neighbor in the public space (in person and online) during the election. It’s not always easy; I admit it’s challenging for me to follow my own advice, and I’ve stumbled a number of times. Here’s to all of us elevating civility and focusing on the greater good at election time.

During an election a good neighbor:

  • Is educated about his/her political positions BEFORE sharing with others. This takes a little homework, but it needs to be done anyway to be an informed voter. Seek out nonpartisan sources of information on candidates and issues, and don’t rely on only one source of news information (i.e. watch more than one news network or type of political show, read more than one newspaper, website, columnist, etc.). A good place to find nonpartisan info is the League of Women Voters (the California site is at, which also has its Smart Voter site, with links to more than a dozen other nonpartisan websites. KQED just published a comprehensive California Proposition Guide.
  • Goes on an information diet, if necessary. Having encouraged you to seek out information, let me add here that if you find too much campaign information and rhetoric is stirring up agitation in you, it’s O.K. to back off from it. Get the (factual) info you need to vote, and then curtail your input. If you find your social media friends are the source of too much info or opinions that distress you, you can take a break until after the election, or temporarily “hide” friends.  You’ll be a better friend to all if you’re not walking around upset and stressed by the political season.
  • Talks less and listens more, online and off. Even if you’re passionate about a particular candidate or measure, limit how often you share your opinions and data. This includes sharing others’ photos/memes/status updates on social media. Once your general public knows where you stand, consider only engaging in discussion when asked, or limit how much you share online. And definitely spend more time listening to family and friends than speaking. Ask questions in a respectful manner to get to the root of why they believe the way they do. Your willingness to listen will go farther than continuously pressing your viewpoint. Unless you’re engaging in conversation with people who are truly undecided (including social media conversations), you’re not going to change anyone’s opinion.
  • Is polite and kind even when someone is being insistent about his or her viewpoint. Find an excuse to change the subject, or offer a friendly, “We’ll have to agree to disagree.”
  • Carefully considers his or her words before speaking/sharing. I heard someone say recently that before you send something into the cyber world, stop and think about whether you would want your words emblazoned on a billboard facing a busy freeway, no matter how limited or private you think access is. Same goes for in-person conversations. Would you be embarrassed or feel guilty later for something you said, or the impact your words or attitude had on someone else? I would include in here carefully considering anything you may “like” on social media or websites, because that will come up on your friends’ feeds, and be recorded on your profile. So even if you think you’re not “saying anything” because you’re not putting it in status updates, your “likes” may be saying it for you. One more note about online sharing: consider the tone, and how that might be perceived. What sounds O.K. in your head might come off more negative in digital communications.
  • Stays out of pointless political arguments. Just walk away or keep on scrolling. You most likely will not change anyone’s mind. You’ll also probably leave more upset than when you entered, and you may even add fuel to the fire. I will admit to having not always followed this one, but am backing away more often these days.
  • Is honest about candidates and issues. This includes sharing only factual information, and not passing on verbatim information from your candidate or issue leaders without at least giving it a cursory fact check and use of some critical thinking skills. Some reliable fact checking sites include Politifact, and FactCheck. Unfortunately we live in the era of truthiness, and “if-you-repeat-a-lie-enough-it-becomes-truth”. There are those who will defend lies as truth, despite all the evidence otherwise. We can do better as a culture if each of us takes a stand.
  • Accords respect for leaders  (and their families, staff members, followers, etc.). This means speaking with respect of and to elected leaders and candidates, not making derogatory comments about intelligence, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
  • Refrains from being mean-spirited. Tied to the last point, avoid making mean comments about candidates/issues you oppose, the people behind them, and the people you interact with who have an opinion opposite of yours. This includes sharing of mean-spirited articles, videos, memes, and other items on social media. Reasoned commentary, well-researched articles, and some satirical articles are O.K., as long they are fair comments, and you don’t overdo it. I’ve shared some satirical videos and political cartoons recently, as well as some commentary and fact checking. I thought about each one ahead of time. I’ve also rejected a number of items for sharing, sometimes because I did not want to offend my friends, and sometimes not wanting to over do it on election-related information.
  • Checks his/her ego and/or moral superiority at the door. It’s hard, right? I find I have to check myself sometimes, because it’s easy to slip into the mode of taking things personally, or a feeling that your candidate or cause is the “right” or “just” one.
  • Gives others the benefit of the doubt. If someone is behaving in a really crabby way about the election, consider that person might just be having a bad day or even a rough stretch in his/her personal lives. Above all, practice kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness.
  • Vents in private. I know, I know, sometimes you just gotta vent. Do it in private and offline.

What would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments section.


  1. […] Before I do, this November is a big presidential election month; check out earlier posts on how to be a good neighbor at election time. Number one is voting, and next is getting along with others both online and off while discussing political viewpoints. […]