Talking Politics With Family And Friends: A Survival Guide

Kalina Stamatova

With political tensions running high all over the world and the holidays fast approaching, many of us are finding ourselves thinking, “What if politics comes up at the dinner table?

Photo by Derick McKinney

At this point, it’s no surprise you’re dreading this conversation. The polarization of today’s politics has inevitably led to a bigger rift between family members, friends, coworkers, you name it. But it’s not all doom and gloom! There’s ways to turn these insufferable debates into healthier congenial conversations.

The apple does fall far from the tree

Politics is a touchy subject for many. But should it become the reason you no longer talk to a relative? Some families can function without having the same opinions about everything, some cannot. Going no contact because your aunt said progressive taxes are stupid is probably taking it too far. However, if her political opinions are coupled with toxic behaviour aimed at yourself or other people, then it’s a pattern you shouldn’t ignore.

When you set out to talk your differences out, think about who is on the other side. Is it family? Is it a friend? Are you at the same stage of life? Is your disagreement minor is it a question of your whole philosophy? Adopting a one-size-fits-all approach can be counterproductive when it comes to politics, so it’s your best bet to tailor your arguments for whoever it is you’re talking to.

Consider the occasion

Yes, more often than not, these situations occur at family gatherings, a friend’s birthday or any other kind of celebration you’re having (safely! Covid-19 doesn’t care about your political affiliation.) Before you throw yourself into a heated discussion, consider whether now really is the right time. No one wants their special moment overshadowed by impassioned speeches about today’s politics. What you can try instead is to find an opportunity to talk privately or at a later time.

Nuance, nuance, nuance

When you hear someone say something you disagree with, more times than not, your mind goes to the worst explanation possible. But the truth is, political opinions can be nuanced. And people aren’t always eloquent enough to express where they’re coming from.

I’ve discovered that when confronted with an argument I oppose, I immediately jump to saying the exact opposite without thinking why and how the person on the other side got to that conclusion (I may have been a part of one too many family shouting matches). Instead, a healthier approach would be to first discover the reasons behind what they’re saying. Ask, ‘What were the experiences that led you to this opinion?’ Once you know that, it’s easier to figure out what could convince them otherwise. And most importantly,

Is this where you draw the line?

Just because you’ve set out to have a civil, friendly debate, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shut it down if something the other side says is way too despicable for you to even try and have at it. Honestly, there’s no point in trying to convince someone calling feminists ‘feminazis’ that feminism is for everyone. 

If something like that is thrown during your conversation, it’s ultimately up to you whether to engage with it. Though it may seem tempting to debate such topics, the truth is, once you’ve reached that point, it’s no longer a two-sided conversation. Yes, you should call deplorable behaviour out, but you have to remember: the other side isn’t listening.

Be realistic

What are you trying to achieve with this conversation? Perhaps convincing the other side of the moral superiority of your arguments isn’t realistic. Neither is changing their whole worldview. Giving them food for thought, however, is. If both of you walk away knowing something you didn’t, you’re one step closer to reaching an agreement. But be prepared for a long process with many ups and downs. No one changes their opinion in a matter of seconds.

It’s not all up to you

A lot of times when talking politics, we get frustrated when our friend or relative doesn’t end up agreeing with us in the end. It’s important to remember that it’s ultimately not our job to convince others or change their minds. At the end of the day, the goal for both sides should be to educate one another, learn and listen.

And if that doesn’t happen, there’s always donating to important causes for every infuriating political conversation you have. All is fair in love and war.

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