Polarization can destroy more than our government – it can also destroy families and friendships.
At AllSides, we're well aware that holiday gatherings can be filled with bitter disputes, rather than lively debates, about political matters. And because we're dedicated to the idea that we can disagree while being respectful and friendly, we like to support healthy conversations, especially around the holidays.
In that spirit, we offer the following tips for harmonious holiday dialog (with help from Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Heather Sutherland):
1. Respect that feelings are at stake.
Political discussions typically turn ugly when people feel they aren’t being heard or understood - or worse, when they feel feel judged. Remember to keep judgment out of political conversations.
It can help to remind yourself that most people do not form their opinions on pure logic and facts, and you can't persuade someone whose emotions are worked up. Sometimes the kindest thing to do is simply respect that they are entitled to their opinion, no matter how much you disagree with it, and move along.
2. Assess the situation. Speak accordingly.
Families are a sensitive system. One tense spat between two people can taint the evening for everyone else. If you know that certain political topics could turn ugly fast with a particular person, make a choice to avoid that topic around that person.
Sutherland says it's about "setting your boundaries - either as a group, or with each person individually." For example, if someone you are talking to brings up a topic you have strong feelings on, such as the healthcare law, and you don't think you can discuss it respectfully, you could let them know it’s not a good topic for you at the moment and change the subject.
3. When you talk politics, keep the focus on issues instead of political identity.
As soon as we label people, our brains get into trouble. Suddenly this person we are speaking to is associated with “everything” that upsets us politically. That's not fair to them. Therefore, avoid using terms like liberal or conservative and don’t dwell on the character flaws of certain liberal or conservative icons either.
Instead, discuss the issues: focus on the facts without the baggage of stereotypes and old party resentments.
After all, most of us - whether we know it or not - are not purely Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian in our views. We are more complex than that, according to the research. For example, consider the 2013 United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll. When Americans were surveyed on their issue views (without using Left or Right labels) they were rarely completely in line with traditional Republican or Democrat views. Rather, most folks agreed with some Democratic views and some Republican views, regardless of their claimed political identity.
We've included links below to some of the AllSides Issue pages in case you'd like to read up on certain news and opinions before you gather with family this season.
After all, dialog is a healthy part of a great democracy. Here's to holiday harmony between you and your multi-partisan loved ones.
AllSides of the Issues