Tips for Engaging in Politically Charged Conversations
Politics are an emotional topic, and this year more than ever. One off-hand comment can cause your blood pressure to spike and eyes to bulge, but staying cool, calm, and collected will help you engage in conversation and stand up for what you believe in. Here's a few tips to keep in mind when the conversation comes around to politics:
* Think Long-Term. No single conversation is going to change a person's mind. So during the holidays try to remember that these people are your relatives and in-laws, and know that even if you don't make a huge amount of progress in a conversation this weekend, you'll get another chance, and another, and another. So stay calm and patient, and don't expect overnight miracles.
* Listen. When someone says something that gets your blood boiling, your mind immediately starts racing to think about all the responses you have to what they're saying. Instead of going in that direction, stop for a minute and actively listen to what they're saying. With this year's elections especially, EVERYONE is feeling frustrated and angry about the current state of affairs, even those whose candidate was elected to office. Actively listening at the beginning of the conversation may allow the surface level emotions and stress to release, leaving the door open for a more productive conversation later.
* Be Empathetic and Set a Respectful Tone. In the modern world where we have the option to selectively listen to the news we agree with and hang out with the people who validate our opinions, there has been a rise in attacking those who disagree through cruel jokes, rudeness, and sometimes even violence. But as Dale Carnegie outlined in How to Win Friends and Influence People (yes, it's an old book but still a relevant one!), people walk away from angry arguments more set in their opinions than ever before. It's the conversations where the individual feels understood and listened to that opens the door to changing people's minds.
* Do Your Research. As discussed on John Oliver's show Last Week Tonight, 38% of Republican-leaning pages and 19% of Democratic-leaning pages on Facebook had partly or completely false news. This means that a significant number of people on both sides of the political spectrum were reading and believing false stories and statistics. Do your research and make sure what you're reading is true, so when you are having a heated discussion over mashed potatoes and gravy, you are confident that your information is solid.
* Stand Up for What You Believe In. Staying quiet to keep the peace is certainly a safer option, but the spike in hate crimes since the election is a sharp reminder that the Trump/Pence administration's rhetoric isn't just words - it also emboldens individuals to take actions against fellow Americans that run counter to the values that underpin our democracy. It's on every individual to speak up against the attitudes, rhetoric, and actions that allow hatred to flourish and divide our country.
When Talking to Kids
Are you going home to younger siblings, cousins, or nieces and nephews? You can still talk to them about politics, but framing the conversation around their experiences and how they feel is the best way to reach them and have a productive conversation.
Questions such as "Have your friends and classmates been talking about the election and the candidates? How so?" or "In what ways do you think the tone of the presidential campaign has been positive and inclusive? How do you think it has been negative and biased?" is a good start to the conversation. From there you can broaden the scope of the conversation and get more complicated if necessary.
How to Deal with Offensive Jokes
There are two ways to deal with offensive jokes: one is to address the joke directly and use it as the beginning of a new dialogue. The Southern Poverty Law Center has a great series on addressing these issues with family, friends and co-workers here.
Your second option, if the conversations aren't making a difference or if you're not comfortable being that direct: don't laugh. In fact, let the silence extend into an awkwardness that can only be broken by changing the subject. As Captain Awkward says, let it get chilly. Let them get offended. Just as they're not obligated to stop telling jokes, you're not obligated to laugh.
Step-by-Step Guides and Talking Points
Need more specific guidance? Below are a few of the excellent resources available for you this holiday season.
* Talking About Race from Vox
* Responding to Everyday Bigotry from Southern Poverty Law Center (includes sections on family, in-laws, children, friends and social events, colleagues and the workplace, and the classroom)
* Helpful tips and talking points for responding to inflammatory rhetoric - and keeping your cool - from Public Eye Magazine
* (For kids 12 and up) Islamaphobia and Being an Ally from the Anti-Defamation League
* (For kids 12 and up) Trans Issues from the Anti-Defamation League
* (Video) Talking to Uncle Bob...literally...from Robert Reich
* (Game) Talking politics by playing a game from Omni