Many people are dreading traveling for Thanksgiving — and it isn’t just the long commutes, the traffic jams, or the whiny kids in the back seat of the station wagon. Much of the anxiety, it seems, has to do with politics.
Whether you’re happy with the results of this year’s midterm elections or not, chances are high that you’ll be sitting at the same dinner table this weekend with at least one relative who holds opposite viewpoints to your own. And for the entire year, they’ve been seeing your political posts and thoughts on Facebook.
In fact, according to one NPR/PBS/Marist poll from last year, nearly 6-in-10 Americans are worried about the topic of politics coming up at the annual holiday dinner.
But don’t fret — this is actually a good thing! Talking about politics with relatives can be an arduous and daunting task, but it’s a necessary step we all need to take if we’re going to move this country into a more empathetic and deliberative nation — one where such conversations needn’t be so frightening or stressful in the future.
This is actually the perfect time to have these hard conversations. As reporting from the Atlantic pointed out in 2017, there are very few occasions during which people with opposing views will be forced to spend time with you, and obligated — in most cases — to have a conversation.
Talking with people one-on-one on Twitter or Facebook about politics seems easy — but it’s also a fruitless endeavor. According to Pew Research, only 14 percent of adults actually change their views because of something they read on social media sites. Speaking to someone in person may be a more effective way of convincing your uncle that his views on supply-side economics are outdated.
Psychologists say that it’s important to have these conversations with our relatives, too, and give some good advice about how to do so. According to reporting from Vox, it’s best to avoid shouting matches — and to enter conversations prepared to hear the points of view held by your loved ones.
“Avoid all verbal attacks and judgment,” Vaile Wright, psychologist and researcher at the American Psychological Association, said. “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.”
This is an important time to spend with family. You shouldn’t make politics the only thing you talk about. But neither should you avoid the topic entirely. It’s likely your cousin saw you wear your “MAGA” or pink-knitted “pussy” hat that you shared to social media.
Instead of avoiding the elephant (or donkey) in the room, consider explaining why you made the choice to take part in that protest last month, rather than filling your mouth with stuffing to avoid awkwardness. You may find out you’ll be able to change some minds, or at least be able to see things from a different perspective.