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Family and Politics: Preparing for the Conversations & Potential Fallout

Our current political climate has been rocky and down right nasty. No matter your political affiliation, bitterness seems to be the flavor of choice for interactions between those that disagree. When you add the ongoing pandemic to this environment, high tension and stress are everywhere. It’s been so difficult and hard to escape. The merging of family, politics, and the stress of the pandemic makes the upcoming holiday interactions with family full of potential for disastrous collisions.

It is important to prepare for your reunion with family on the opposing side of politics. Politics should not be something we can’t talk about with those we disagree with as that can further divide us. Sharing our perspectives can bring understanding and help us find commonalities with those on the “other side.” To do this, we need to remember how to respect and listen to each other.

Read on for some helpful reminders before you’re in the midst of a family conversation on its way toward resentment and anger.

Stay in Control While Talking Politics with Family

The reality of any and all situations is that you are only in control of yourself. You don’t get to determine others’ actions, beliefs or decide when they are done with a conversation. You must decide what is best for you and only you. Think about the words you will and won’t use in sharing your politics with family. Plan on what information can constructively be shared. If you are educated in a specific topic and know others are not, make your knowledge accessible, don’t be condescending. Set boundaries for yourself regarding topics that will be off-limits and know when you will need to end a conversation. Identifying these prior to meeting creates a sort of, rules of conduct for yourself which could prevent reactive and explosive responses. Be sure you stay engaged in a constructive interaction; anger and rebuttals get distracting! Identify your triggers, listen without thinking about how you are going to respond and know when it’s time to walk away.

You’re responsible for the impact of your interactions, even when the consequences are not what you intended. Words and actions matter and can leave impressions that are hard to forget or forgive. Prepare yourself for triggers and defensiveness when you are disagreeing with someone. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share your feelings, perspective or ideas. It means it is important to do so with respect and kindness toward others. How you share matters. Belittling, talking down, or yelling rarely produce constructive results. If this is where you land…just stop the conversation. Practice your response and think about what you will not say, as this can save you in the long run!

Politics & Family are Personal

Politics are personal and we typically tie them to our values and beliefs. These are at our core and when someone disagrees with what we hold deep within us, it is personal. Typically, we get defensive if someone opposes or challenges us personally. This is a natural ‘go-to’ response. Pay attention to your reactions when you get defensive. Often times when we lash out, we cause damage and an impact we do not intend.

Political perspectives develop from our lived experiences, gained knowledge and values/beliefs. No two people have the exact same perspective. It’s dangerous to tell someone their lived experience is invalid, their knowledge is suspect or they have the wrong values/beliefs. We need reliable depths of information to question these for other people. When you ask for clarity, listen to the response and take in the information. Understanding someone’s lived experience and how that impacts their perspective demands interest and an open mind. You must be willing to listen to (and really hear) someone’s point of view. You must also realize they have information you can learn from, even if you don’t think that’s possible.

We have reasons for standing by our politics and your reasoning is no more or less important than another persons. Entering interactions from the vantage of “I am right” does not lead to conversation, it leads to an argument. Keep in mind a conversation about politics is personal and enter with compassion for the human across from you. This provides space for constructive interaction.

Know Your Goal in Talking Politics

If you are going to have a conversation about politics you should know the goal of the conversation. This may sound a bit silly and it can help direct your responses and keep things on track. Know your goal of sharing information and decide the point of the conversation. Here’s an idea…share these goals with those you speak with! Seriously, when starting a conversation (or if it seemingly starts itself) set up parameters and expectations for your conversation. I am not saying you need to write out the rules, just say something like,

“I think you and I might have very different views and I am happy to listen to your perspective and share mine. Can we just understand this conversation is to respectfully hear each other out?”

Set it up with an expected outcome and acknowledge the potential for difficulty. By saying out loud there is potential for conflict, you squash the anticipation of a pop-up argument.

Think about your goal of sharing your perspective. Do you really expect to change a family member’s mind regarding their politics? Do they think they will change your mind? You probably just said to yourself, “not possible, they won’t change my mind” and that is precisely my point. It is unlikely a single conversation will change a person’s political views. Sharing details of your developed perspective and listening to other’s allows us to learn, and maybe re-evaluate what we know. Share in hopes of providing context and new information, and listen to accept this from others. You never know what could come out of this type of exchange.

Keep it Real

The outcome of elections impact people’s livability. When livability is dependent on the outcome of an election, the stakes are high and deeply personal. When it’s personal, we tend to fight against what opposes us. Having conversations regarding personal beliefs with someone who stands against you and your beliefs isn’t easy. If intending to engage in these conversations, prepare yourself and remember you must be willing to listen and learn too. If you are not in a position to have a respectful and open exchange, that’s okay. Don’t do it. Stay away from the possibility of the conversation and make a conscious decision to walk away, or leave if necessary.

This year’s events have taken people to a point where losing relationships over political decisions is happening. I have both unapologetically disengaged in relationships not contributing to making my life better and continued valuable relationships with those I vehemently disagree with. I choose to engage with those I love to a degree with which I am comfortable. We don’t necessarily avoid talking politics, we keep those conversations respectful and know each other’s limits in the conversation. It isn’t easy. It gets uncomfortable and painful and I value the relationships enough to continue the discussions.

If you need to step away from a relationship because it is toxic to your wellbeing, do it. You don’t need anyone’s permission. It will be hard and there will be rippling fallout and people will not understand your decision. You have to take care of yourself and if no longer partaking in family events is a necessary action, be sure you find the support you need during difficult times with those you love and whom support you. Having principles and boundaries you don’t concede is your choice and prerogative, be you!

They Might Know Something Too

Don’t get me wrong, I want everyone to believe and love the way I do. What I try to remember is MY perspective is not the right one, it is right for me. I thank Brene Brown for provoking the question, “Do you want to be right, or do right?” in order for me to get to this point. There are other valid and important perspectives individuals have the right to hold. Wanting someone to feel and believe what we know in the depths of our being is natural. That is what those on the “other side” want too.

Respectful and constructive conversations start with individuals respecting the other person and knowing neither of you knows it all! We must open ourselves up to the possibility that we could be wrong, and learn from others who have different life experiences than we do. This is how we grow and better define who we are and what we believe. It can be dangerous to dismiss what others have to share with you. Ongoing learning is important and it can take swallowing our pride, and it provides growth!

As passionate as I am in my views, so is my family member with the opposing viewpoint, even if I don’t understand it. Allowing them to explain and attempting to understand is worth my time when I value the relationship. It doesn’t mean we will agree or ever understand each other fully, instead it means I am willing to listen and try to understand.

Take Care of You

I say stay true to your beliefs and viewpoints when talking politics with family, and keep in mind there is a human (a family member) on the other side. Enter conversations with compassion, preparation, intention and an open mind.

Non-political issues have become political, and livability and human rights are at stake in our country. In the coming weeks, do what is right for you. If you feel unsafe, or unable to interact with those you feel are blatantly disrespectful toward you and your views, do not engage. It won’t be helpful and it is more likely to be detrimental to your well being.

If you are looking for more insight and approaches, I have found a great podcast specifically addressing opposing political viewpoints and relationships. Check out Pantsuit Politics with Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers. These close friends “disagree with grace” as they sit on opposite ends of the political spectrum and they love each other anyway.

This year has been hard, in so many ways. If you are looking for ways to take care of yourself as we start the season of potential difficult conversations, take some time to read ways to practice self care. Juliette Sakasegawa talks about ways to keep sane during the multitude of stress inducers of 2020 in A Pandemic, Natural Disasters, and Politics, Oh My and Aubree Monares has helpful strategies in her recent blog, Prioritizing Your Mental Health When the World Feels Chaotic.

Relationships are important and they are hard, especially with those whom we love and don’t agree with. Be kind to one another, take care of you, take care of each other and keep going, you’ve got this!

Becky Broghammer

Becky grew up falling in love with the outdoors of Alaska and Colorado, she currently lives in Ohio with her husband of 23 years and they share three children (ages 21, 15, 12). As an educator, designer and facilitator, kindness and respect are at the center of Becky’s interactions. She focuses on supporting and encouraging her community and promotes equity in all facets of her life. Becky is a lifelong learner and has earned degrees in Interior Design (BA), Educational Leadership (MA), Student Affairs Leadership (PhD) and is currently working on an MS in Construction Management. Her work in higher education provides perspective and insight regarding privilege and marginalization. Becky works to inspire and expand the understanding of others’ truths to build a better tomorrow. She believes you should love what you do and if you don’t, you should make changes. Life is short, and everyone deserves happiness! Becky founded B Whatever Sunshine, a company rooted in developing relationships motivated to create and design spaces (literally and figuratively) allowing people to step back, breathe, take care of themselves and move forward toward growth and deeper understanding of themselves, their personal why and their impact on this world. Becky’s passion for equity, joyful moments and her sense of humor keep things authentic, fun, and relatable.

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