by Jeff Newcomer Miller, MSMC Dialogue Resource Team, member of Albuquerque Mennonite Church
Some things to consider in talking politics this holiday season – especially with family.
I recently attended a family wedding with many extended family members. It was such a delight to re-connect with family that I’ve not seen in years and to introduce them to our new son, eat familiar foods, watch football and have hours and hours of coffee conversation. I find my family a delight and know them as salt of the earth people. I believe if there were more of them on this earth, things would be better. Recently, I’ve noted that the topic of politics is becoming more and more prominent in these family gathers. Additionally, it’s becoming more and more apparent that there are “gaps” between what each of us believes and feel is right when it comes to the topic of politics. This is even more of a rich conversation since some of my family call Canada home and they have undergone their own version of political change.
No doubt this recent election season was riddled with some negativity and it seemed to bring out the worst in our political pundits and even in ourselves. I found myself feeling more negative about this election season than in any recent past elections. I didn’t want to succumb to my gut instincts, but I felt like this election season brought me down to my lowest form of thinking.
However, despite all of this, I still kept in the back of my mind the reality that I have been and will continue to be wrong – wrong in my thinking, in my argumentation, in my grasp of the issues at stake. I’m learning to be grateful for this deficiency, especially when I feel like the family member sitting across from me is absolutely wrong. It’s in these moments, when we have both sipped our coffee and for some reason I’ve brought up the topic of immigration, that I have to remember the above truth – that I’ve been wrong in the past and I’ll continue to be wrong.
With the above in mind I encountered an article, recently, that I found helpful regarding some “ground rules” for engaging in political discussions, or any sensitive subject matter – particularly with family. This is taken from an online blog (http://lifehacker.com/5904594/the-guidelines-for-a-rational-political-discussion-with-friends-and-family). I hope you find these rules as helpful as I did.
1. “Know your facts (and what you don’t know) – Just remember, you’re not always right.”
2. “Put yourself in their shoes and get to know your [family member’s] views.”
3. “Don’t regurgitate other’s views. Put your own spin on it.” (Basically, formulate your own opinion about the topic and try to make it more personal).
4. “Stay calm and civil at all costs.” (Just breathe!)
I put these rules into practice at my recent family gathering and even though we were all across the board on our views, it seemed that the conversation remained civil and maybe we even learned a bit from each other. I certainly gained an appreciation for my family members and the depth of thinking that is present. We all care deeply about others and about our faith and we all seek to live true to our Christian convictions and yet, despite this very basic aspiration, we come to very different conclusions about how those beliefs manifest into political practices. I find this a wonderful thing, but it can certainly cause some “rifts” in family coffee conversation. May you all find time with family to be enriching and engaging and most importantly may you be able to speak your mind knowing that you’ll be able to keep your own cool in the face of differing views and expressions.