During family holidays we might run into family members holding different values and subscribing to difference ideologies. Families across the world need unity over division more than ever, so how do we handle difficult discussion topics during these polarising times?
This holiday season, perhaps we prioritize harmony. This way, we can strengthen our support systems and seek to better understand how to support those around us. But how do we go about doing that? The first thing we can do is ask questions. We can ask our loved ones how they are doing and how they have negotiated the difficulties and hardships we have all been facing. For opinionated members family members, this may swerve into a speech about how their difficulties were caused by specific public health policies or political ideologies. In these situations, Elizabeth Scott, MS, suggests redirecting the conversation away from difficult topics that may provoke family conflict. When conversations take a turn, we can recover by focusing on our relationship to the other person. This can mean acknowledging what the other person is going through and validating their hardships without having to get into the politics of it. It can be very powerful for a person to have family member recognise what they’re going through and affirm the realness of their life’s difficulties.
Despite our best efforts, we still may find ourselves in the midst of a politically charged debate. When this happens, it can be helpful to remember that conflict resolution begins with an open mind that values diverse ideas and opinions. Maintaining healthy relationships with those who think and value different things than us is of far greater benefit to us than to completely avoid them. Former lawyers and long time bi-partisan friends Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers, co-hosts of the podcast Pantsuit Politics write in their book I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening):
“If the ramifications of political conversation ended at even the most contentious dinner table, or if these uncomfortable situations were simply a cable television drama that we could turn off, our instincts to confirm our beliefs and avoid any conversations that challenge them wouldn’t be so dangerous…but the reality is that we cannot opt out of the real consequences of politics in our lives.”
Afterall, one way to avoid a bad conversation about politics is by having a good conversation about politics. When the conversation does come to a close, Susan Adcox and Carly Snyder, MD suggest in an article for Very Well Family, that instead of saying things such as “We’ll just have to agree to disagree,” we should opt for “You’ve given me something to think about. Let’s talk about something else and come back to this at another time.” This is a more pragmatic and engaging way to close a conversation that tells your loved one that you are open minded and willing to listen.
This year has been overwhelmed by division and isolation. Despite the hardships many of us have endured, our last few weeks can still be about supporting one another and focusing on mending and maintaining our relationships with those closest to us. The politics of our families can be complicated enough without the politics of the world being thrown into the mix. Being thoughtful about how we navigate difficult conversations means redirecting the conversation away from controversy where possible and validating and de-escalating when we can’t. By embracing diversity and embodying non-confrontation, this holiday season can be a time of understanding, support, and reconnection.
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Lab Manager and Writer Imayan is doing his final year of BSc Psychology at the University of Toronto. Imayan is passionate about research and writing about all things psychology. His main focus is doing research that is impactful to the population and meaningful to the field.