Let me start off by saying this: there is a time and a place for raging and screaming about your political beliefs — when your rights are being trampled upon, for example, or when you’re at a rally, or when you’re speaking in front of a group of activists.

These are times to really let fly with your anger because these are times that you might actually be able to make a difference.

And that’s wonderful. You should want to make a difference. But you should also know when raging about your politics will be less likely to affect change, and more likely to make you an asshole – and that time is when you’re among polite company that’s just trying to have a good time. After all, it’s unlikely that any conversation you have at a dinner party will result in media coverage, but it is likely that if you start screaming about how people who like Obamacare are fucking morons that you’re going to come across in a less than favorable light.

It is, therefore, from this angle that I’d like to approach the topic of how to talk about politics without being an asshole; from the angle, that is, of knowing when you really can have an effect, and when you are just exchanging ideas, agreeing or disagreeing, making some points, and then eating dessert. So here it is, the definitive list of friendly-politics-talking pointers:

1. Approach the conversation with an open mind. It may be true that if you love Rick Santorum and someone else believes that Rick Santorum is the devil in a sweater vest, you’re probably never going to agree. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from each other — if nothing else, understanding other people’s opinions when you disagree with them helps to strengthen your own point of view and get to know yourself better, in addition to making you a better person because your worldview has just become less narrow.

2. Don’t be in it to win it. Of course you want to emerge the victor of your impromptu debate, but here’s the big secret: no one is going to win. You’re not being televised, you’re not trying to generate votes, no one is waiting with a giant check at the end of the hour. And as much as you might like lobbing statistics out there to prove how right you are, that’s called being an intellectual bully, and surprisingly it does not make you likable.

3. Have a sense of humor. You know who the most awesome person in the room always is? The one who has enough self-assuredness to laugh it off instead of becoming increasingly rabid when political debates get awkwardly intense. Think about how much you like the guy who’s able to diffuse that situation. Think about how much you respect that guy. Now, try to be that guy.

4. Don’t be an asshole. Here are some ways to tell if you’re being an asshole:

  • You snort out a condescending little laugh in response to something someone says.
  • You try to rope the whole room into agreeing that someone is wrong.
  • You make a face that looks anything like a face that George W. Bush ever made, ever.
  • You start accusingly asking about someone’s personal involvement with the topic at hand – i.e.: “Have YOU ever applied for food stamps?” “Did YOU ever go down to Occupy and TALK to them?”

5. Don’t interrupt. It’s just a dick move. Unless someone has displayed the behavior listed above, and you’re interrupting them to let them know that you will now be exiting the conversation, let them finish their points. You won’t die and neither will your cause.

In short, keep in mind that being an asshole serves no one. But more than that, sometimes being an asshole among polite company when talking politics has an even worse effect – it gets confused with actually doing something about politics, the same way that people feel as though they’ve contributed to a cause by saying what color bra they wear on Facebook. Rather than ostracize a group of strangers at your colleague’s karaoke birthday party, you’d be better off to save up that irate energy and go volunteer somewhere.

In other words, put your asshole inclinations to good use. At parties, just have fun.