How to talk to family members about politics - THINKERS Notebook

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How to talk to family members about politics

Well ... it's been a week, huh?

How about we pause to take a look ahead to (hopefully) more pleasant times in our near future.

The holidays are fast approaching as the capper to this fraught calendar year, so it seems like a good time to do some important mental prep work.

With so many topics in our contemporary discourse eliciting polarized opinions, many families may be sitting on a powder keg as they pass the stuffing, sip the egg nog, or, given present circumstances, suffice to catch up on Zoom.

Some families find all members on the same side of controversial issues. For these families, there is little risk of heated discussions.

Other families choose to simply avoid controversial topics during get-togethers. If successful, this is a good strategy for avoiding confrontation, though it also eliminates the possibility for a potentially useful exchange of differing ideas.

And then there are other families in between: opposing opinions abound and are freely expressed.

For these families, what is the best way to attempt a useful exchange of ideas without seeing precious family time devolve into unproductive and uncomfortable bickering?

In this week's edition of the THINKERS Roundup, I've included a few links to help you prepare for these potentially choppy holiday waters. 

I hope they help you get in the right state of mind to make the most of the precious time you have with loved ones, because nothing is more important over the next two months than that.

Both sides have to really try


“What we always say is, it’s not necessary for someone to give grace to receive it. It’s not necessary for the other person to be totally openhearted and patient and willing, especially with family members, for [you] to be openhearted and patient and willing to give all the curiosity and grace in the world,” Holland said.

The hope, she said, is that the family member will “be disarmed and hopefully more curious for the next conversation—more willing to listen in the next conversation, because someone showed up and said, ‘I’m not coming here to try to convince you or to oppose you, but merely to try to understand better where you’re coming from.’”

Read: The Art of Navigating a Family Political Discussion, Peacefully (The Atlantic)

Make sure you're expectations are realistic


If your family members are open to having a conversation, ask yourself what is realistic to hope for during and at the end of that conversation, said Jesse Kahn, director and sex therapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City.

“You may not radically change or impact anyone in a single conversation, so are you OK with just laying the groundwork?” he said. “Are you OK with having multiple conversations? Can you provide some insight or resources that helped you grow as your politics were changing, and allow your family the time to explore them as you did?”

Watch: How Therapists Talk To Their Family Members With Different Political Views (Huff Post)

Remember the limitations of your own thinking


In some ways, our brains are being trained by social media to ditch the idea of listening and learning, said Mavis Tsai, a UW psychology research scientist. This intractability is called “confirmation bias.”

“You just keep looking for things that confirm your viewpoints and you shut your eyes and ears to anything that doesn’t confirm what you already believe,” she said. “This is why it’s so important for someone to broach the conversation and to just really affirm to yourself to take a deep breath and say, ‘I’m going to try to be relaxed and openhearted and curious and just hear what they have to say, because I care about this person and just come from a place of curiosity.’”

Read: How to talk to your family about COVID-19, politics and other thorny subjects (Seattle Times)

Quote of the week

“To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” 

-- Confucius