Opinion: Politics & the Holidays

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Family dinner table. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

While the holidays are supposed to be filled with joy and community, they often are a stressor, as dreaded conversations surrounding politics are inevitable. Like most people, I’ve experienced this stress first-hand and struggled to express my political opinions to my family who has conflicting views.

This year is especially trying, given the politicization of masks due to COVID-19 and the recent presidential election that has led to greater tension in the current political system. Holidays are being celebrated differently this year, as most people cancel large family gatherings and instead opt for more intimate celebrations to prevent spreading COVID-19. However, many people are still traveling home for holidays over the school break and will face difficult conversations.

Civil dialogue around politics is challenging, especially when you or the other party feels strongly about the topic at hand. In my experience, heated arguments arise when political disagreements turn into personal attacks or when one party refuses to listen to the other.

Although these conversations may be uncomfortable or daunting, I think that discussion is necessary to create understanding and tolerance. The best way to bring up politics around family is in a non-confrontational manner and posing the topic as a discussion rather than an accusation. Ideally, both parties would be open to learning more about the other person’s view and expanding their understanding of the topic.

It’s difficult to broach tricky topics and also find a balance between articulating your stance and keeping an open mind to the opposing view. I’ve learned that establishing common ground between both sides is necessary before attempting to resolve the differences between positions and prevent hostility. As masks and COVID-19 remain a critical issue today, productive conversations can emerge out of trying to find mutual understanding regarding the importance of protecting at-risk demographics, then establishing why masks are effective for this purpose.

However, it’s necessary to acknowledge that people are unwilling to converse in open discourse when tensions arise or attacks become personal. In cases like this, the best way to diffuse tension is to remain calm and present rational arguments rather than refute the other person’s reactions to the conversation. As politics often spark emotional responses, it’s essential to maintain personal detachment to views when having these conversations.

A relevant example of this strategy is talking to a family member who voted for a different candidate and has an emotional reaction to your vote. The best way to diffuse the situation would be to present clear policies and reasons why you voted for the candidate you did, rather than trying to respond to their upset reaction. Although speaking your mind is important to advocating for yourself and creating progress, I would make sure to do so in an environment where you feel safe to express your opinions. It’s crucial to place personal safety above any other factors. I would urge someone unsure of the safety of their situation to remain cognizant of the outcomes or difficulties they may face as a result.

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