Early voting has started in the US and, like it or not, politics is at the center of many families’ dinner table conversations. I’m not of the mindset that religion and politics are taboo discussion topics in social or family situations. In fact, it’s those conversations that educate me most about what kinds of people my family ad friends truly are, scary as that may turn out. These are often deep, well thought out, intelligent conversations that are more of an exchange of ideas than an attempt to change minds. So I encourage such discussions, because let’s be honest, small-talk about trivial topics like sports and television shows gets boring and redundant after a while.
And of course, we have the obvious uncomfortable downside to such exchanges. Someone close to you just told you they’re voting for Donald Trump.
Your brain starts spinning. Suddenly you become every serial killer’s next-door neighbor interviewed on the news. Lines like, “I would have never guessed this about him,” or, “She was always so quiet and unassuming,” and, “But he has a good job and a family,” start flying through your head. You’re in shock. You don’t know what to say next, except for, “Wait, WHAT?!?!?!”
So how do you handle it? Shut them out completely and walk away? Vow never to talk politics with them again? Unfriend them on Facebook (the ultimate betrayal)?
My advice — None of the above.
Stay calm. No matter what, please stay calm. Our current Presidential candidates, their campaigns, and the media have all contributed to the extreme divisiveness that has accompanied this election. In some sense, the rhetoric on all sides has manipulated the public into the camp versus camp mentality with no middle ground in sight. But that’s not entirely how we operate as human beings. We’re constantly negotiating, compromising, and finding middle ground. This election is a mere moment in time, and one day we’ll look back on it as “that crazy election,” hopefully with our relationships intact.
I encourage calm discussion when disturbing revelations like allegiance to Trump come about. It’s vital to keep in mind that our relationships are what’s important here. Ask questions about their choice of candidate, but do it in a non-threatening way. Understanding why they are voting for Trump could do a few things. First, it could open a door for you to educate them on your candidate. Maybe you have an opportunity to influence their decision with actual facts. Second, it could soften the blow you felt when you learned about their choice. Maybe they have a legitimate reason for their decision you hadn’t thought of before. Maybe it’s not all about racism, sexism or xenophobia. Or maybe I’m too much of an optimist. Either way, a negative reaction just makes you part of the problem.
I believe that dealing with conflict effectively comes down to 20% being the actual difference of opinion and 80% how we react to it. Often times, disagreements are exacerbated by how we handle them, avoiding the actual crux of the situation, and arguing over what happened afterward. Kind of like when you have an argument with someone for 20 minutes and then forget what actually started it. We’ve all done it. So it’s all about how you take the Trump news. Are you going to overreact and call that person an idiot, a racist, or worse? Or are you going to process that information and calmly try to get to the motivating factors before you decide to never talk to them again? Because let’s be honest, that still might end up being the solution. We just don’t need to always start there.
Thanks to Emilios for the topic suggestion.