Opinion

A Guide to Talking Politics with Family

Yes, it's possible to talk about politics with your family.
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Before the 2016 elections, you could engage in political talk with a cousin or an uncle without clenching your fists or tightening your jaw. Talking politics with family was tricky, sure. Still, it was tolerable and at times, even enjoyable to do so. A round of beer could be shared. Dinners could be eaten in peace. Put simply, all was well.

But that was then. These days, it’s common to find families unfollowing each other on social media just to avoid the political posts they share. Others have found themselves abandoned by siblings and cousins simply because they didn’t vote for the same president in 2016. Worse, some have limited their contact with family to birthday and holiday dinners, to prevent any more political arguments.

How to Talk Politics with Family

In the age of fake news and trolls conveniently spewing beliefs and values from all sides of the political spectrum, it’s easy to fall into the trap of your own politics and become apathetic to another party’s reasoning. Suddenly, politics has become so personal, it has caused strife in even our closest, most intimate relationships, that even families can turn into strangers. But it shouldn’t be the case. There are ways to maintain an amicable relationship with family members, even when you have contrasting lists of senatoriables this coming election.

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Below, we round up professional advice that can help you tread political talk with family during this tumultuous climate.

1| Relax and Find Your Why

True, there are arguments that you know are best not to engage in. But if ever you find yourself in a passionate debate with your parents on politics, ask yourself: Why? Why bicker and argue? Are you talking to simply point out what’s wrong with their arguments or are you here to listen?

In a Vox article, Vaile Right, an American Psychological Association psychologist and researcher, said it’s best to figure out early what your goals are in having this kind of conversation with any person. It may help you to keep things civil enough so that arguments will remain respectful or it will convince you to simply decide not to engage and argue.  

2| Be Curious

If you decide to take part in the conversation though, then be curious. Yes, curious enough to listen to a homily and a litany of reasons why this politician may not be so bad, or how this policy can help the Philippines to move forward. It sounds painful and excruciating, but without empathy, political talk with any family member can easily turn sour, especially when you’re always ready to counter any point your mom or dad will bring to the table.

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In the book, I Think You’re Wrong But I’m Listening, American authors Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers share tips on how to navigate a conversation with anyone who may have an opposing political belief. It’s quite an interesting read especially since both writers share that they aren’t exactly from the same side of politics. As U.S.-based lawyers, both have supported different presidentiables, yet they have maintained a friendly relationship, even launching a podcast and a book together.

The authors call this practice of empathy as “giving grace.” True, giving another person a chance to speak and be listened to (not just heard) isn’t always reciprocated, especially in times of passionate debate. But giving a family member a chance to speak now is banking on the hope that the next time you engage in a conversation, he or she will also give you the pleasure of being heard as well.

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It’s also a chance to understand the values that drive the other person to support one politician or policy. Doing this may even help you find something in common and have a friendly political conversation.

3| Be Civil

By disarming the other person with the pleasure of being heard, it may help steer a political conversation into a calmer tone. If it remains impassioned and intense, then best be reminded that attacking the other person will simply do no good.

According to Right: “You don’t have to validate someone else’s content that you may find inconsistent with your values, but you do need to at least validate their ability to share their feelings and willingness to be open. That is how you move a conversation forward if it ends up that you do not agree with their opinions.”

It also helps to be reminded that when engaging in political talk, it’s acceptable to not have any clear “winner.” Often, people argue just for the satisfaction of seeing the other lose the argument. It’s a pleasure that most enjoy. Who wouldn’t want to win? But it’s a vicious one-upper that could turn a loving relationship turn sour.

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Entering a conversation not to “win” but to listen and simply talk, can be transformative. It changes your tone and perspective. And may even turn political talk with family into a tolerable and safe practice.

4| Learn to Prioritize

Still, if you find yourself along parallel lines with a family member even after practicing all these pieces of advice, then remember who they were to your life before the 2016 elections.

Now, that sounds like a cop-out, but in this climate, political talk with family should not be a one-time experience. Make it an evolving practice.

“If you stay on the surface with your relationships to keep the peace and choose not to have these tough conversations with people, what are you losing out on in the long run?,” asked Right. “You probably aren’t having a fully meaningful relationship with that person because neither of you is taking the time or initiative to understand each other’s point of view.”

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About The Author
Elyssa Christine Lopez
Elyssa Christine Lopez is a staff writer of Esquire. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz
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