Talking politics with loved ones (and strangers, too) can be a difficult feat even in the best of times. Politics today, however, is far from the best of times. We are in some of the more divisive times I can remember in my lifetime and it’s wreaking havoc in many families. In my office, clients are reporting not speaking to family members at all since the election. They’re reporting that they can’t talk about much of anything going on in the world today because they are on opposite sides of the fence and it frequently turns into a political fight. The problem, though, is that there’s A LOT going on in the world that is pretty heavy and not talking about it isn’t working.
So what do you do when you have a loved one who is your political antithesis in a world where major issues seem to be blowing up almost daily? The answer to this question is in part determined by how close you are to the person and how much you care about sharing your thoughts, concerns and feelings with them. If the person is your spouse, then you have to dig deep and not allow politics or world events to end your marriage. If the person is a distant aunt who drives you crazy with her rants, then it’s fine to let it go and move on.
Below are some guidelines for talking to those in your inner circle—those closest to you and with whom you care to share your life in a connected way. Even though you may be on opposite sides of the aisle, that doesn’t mean you can’t speak about hard issues in a positive way. First and foremost, this dialogue requires that you remember to be more mindful about the way you speak. I know for me personally this was particularly hard at first and, although it’s getting easier, there are still times when I have to pull myself back. I love my family and the last thing I want to do is end a relationship due to politics. While at times this may mean we must not speak about an issue, other times it means we have to find a way.
For all of you, who have been struggling to find your way through the crazy political terrain of today with your loved ones, try these tips below. Incorporate the following rules of the road within your home and out in the world when speaking to loved ones on the “other side.”
1. Remember the love: Remember that this person you love today is still the same person you loved last year. Different political views does not mean s/he lost his/her soul somewhere along the way. If s/he treats you well and is kind to humanity, then stop questioning their character because of a vote or opinion. Assess him/her on their actions, not their votes.
2. Talk about humanity and the event or issue, not politics: In response to the Charlottesville, VA rally by white nationalists, for example, speak about the sadness of a young woman dying or anger about a man running people down with a car. Do not talk about how you believe Donald Trump incites violence or how crazy liberals shouldn’t have been protesting. Stick to the feelings and the humanity of the situation, not your political beliefs.
3. Leave demeaning generalizations out of the conversation: “Those crazy liberals,” “right wing nuts,” “hypocritical Christians” or other derogatory labels are divisive. Speaking or writing these terms will escalate the fight and further the disconnection. There’s no reason to be grossly antagonistic. Stop it.
4. Share—don’t convince: Intimacy means “into me you see.” Share yourself for the purpose of connecting. Do not try to convince the other person that you’re right or try to sway them to your side. Simply share and encourage them to do the same.
5. Listen, don’t defend or attack: Be the listener you want others to be for you. Listening does not mean “hearing” or agreeing; it simply means understanding. The more you listen, the more you get where the other person is coming from. Work to understand where they’re coming from. Get curious, ask questions and be open, not defensive or righteous.
Our world climate has become incredibly divisive—do not let that get in the way of your relationships. Take the high road. Remember humanity in every thing you do and every conversation you have. Do not make your loved ones out to be crazy or bad or [fill in the blank]. Agree to disagree, and . . . have the conversations in ways that are mutually respectful. We can all do this.
Challenge: If you find yourself on the side opposite someone you love regarding politics, then stop the fighting and start connecting. Have the conversations, however do so with love and respect. Follow the guidelines above and check back in to let us know how it’s going. We can all learn from your experiences!