It’s the stuff of satiric cartoons: the family sits down to Thanksgiving dinner, only to have the peace erupt when someone brings up politics. Uncle Jimmy looks like he’s about to throw the turkey baster at Cousin Jane’s head. No one passes the salt.
Some families have even established the “no politics at the table” rule to avoid the turbulence of current politics. The threat of these explosive conversations extends past the Thanksgiving table and past election season. Anytime you have two people with opposing views and a controversial topic comes up, there’s bound to be trouble. We all have our views, and we have every right to hold them and defend them to the end. However, getting together with extended family should be a time for reunion and unity, not eye-rolling and mashed potato throwing. Here’s a quick guide for talking to family members about politics when they totally don’t understand.
This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised. So much of the time, we listen to respond instead of listening to hear. It’s important to see where people are coming from; you may even agree with a part of what they’re arguing. They aren’t just saying things to hear themselves talk (usually, but hey, we all know the exceptions). Listen to what they’re saying in the same way you would want them to hear your words.
Do your homework
This is essential to any conversation. Know your facts. Double check your facts, make sure they come from a reliable source and only use them in context. The last thing you want to do is preach something totally false, only to have it discredit your entire argument.
Defend but don’t attack
If someone attacks your opinion, answer them calmly. You know what you believe, and you should be able to eloquently explain the why and how. Avoid attacking other people’s opinions. Instead, try asking questions that aren’t construed as offensive. Like, maybe stay away from, “why are you so ignorant?” That one usually doesn’t go over well. Instead try, “what makes you feel that way?”
Keep the personal out of the discussion
So what if your cousin Caroline posted “TBH” statuses on Facebook and wore blue eyeliner in the seventh grade? That has nothing to do with current political issues or her stance on them. Don’t bring in embarrassing things that don’t belong in the conversation. You’re discussing each other’s views, not your personal appearances or characteristics. Bringing that stuff in is just a cheap shot and takes away from the potential for a genuine conversation.
Don’t expect to “win”
In reality, you probably won’t persuade your grandmother to become a Democrat by the end of a twenty-minute conversation. It just won’t happen. And you shouldn’t expect or hope for that outcome. The goal is a civil, respectful conversation where you hear one another out. There won’t be winners and losers, so don’t treat it like a competition.
Following these guidelines will help you get the conversation started. Remember, these people are your family members. Even if they don’t see where you’re coming from, stay patient and respectful. You might even learn something.