Politics has always been a topic rife with tension, but since the inauguration of Donald Trump as our newest president, it’s no secret that political divisions have seemed more pronounced than ever. Conversations with those who have different views can be loaded, and at their worst, hostile. Such divisions can be particularly painful when they are found when within families. Here are a few tips to navigating political divides with those who are nearest and dearest.
1. Find the common ground and begin the conversation there.
Though political opinions may differ, you are bound to have a few things in common with your family members. Use this as a starting point should politics enter the conversation, and focus on what you agree on. For example, ending domestic violence, finding a solution for food insecurity, and ensuring education for all tend to be easy, nonpartisan issues that many agree on. Rather than skipping straight to polarizing topics, begin where you know you can agree.
2. Practice listening.
It’s very easy to surround ourselves with only the views and opinions we agree with. Consider listening to those who have different ideas as an exercise in educating yourself about the American political landscape, and the fears and hopes that shape peoples’ voting behavior. Keep in mind, listening to a different opinion does not mean agreeing with it, but rather creates the opportunity to learn more about why someone thinks the way they do. You also may learn about defining experiences in a family members’ life that has helped to shape not just their political views, but who they are as a person. While you may not agree with their opinions, listening to the other side of the story can also help you better understand why you support your own political views as well.
3. Understand the difference between discussing vs. arguing.
It is possible to disagree on big issues and still have a close relationship with someone. It is also possible to have healthy discussions about those disagreements which engage both parties and leave each feeling like the conversation was compelling, and that they were heard. However, unhealthy and toxic arguments about politics have a distinct type of emotional taxation that tends to put people on the defense. Sometimes conversations about politics can be heated, even if we try to stay calm and collected. If you find yourself in a situation where a discussion evolves into an argument, it is perfectly healthy to ask to wrap up the conversation and continue at another time. As important as it is to practice listening, it is equally important to calmly and kindly allow yourself space should any conversation get uncomfortable.
4. It’s ok to make some topics off limits.
Ultimately, if you and your family members cannot make it through an event together without upsetting political arguments, then it may be necessary to mark incendiary topics as off limits for the time being. Once you and your family are able to refocus on listening to one another, then it may be time to approach those challenging topics again.
Political views stem from a place of love, fear, hope, and passion, are not likely to be changed easily, and can often cause conflict between otherwise close family members. Ultimately, use these different methods to help ensure that despite differences, you can still maintain strong family ties.