Politics with Your Family: Making Amends and Making Progress
Ahh, election years. What a great time to gather around the dinner table and have a logical discussion with your subtly racist grandparents about who will be ideal as the next POTUS! As nice as it would be to have an open-minded, calm and intelligent conversation with my elders about this topic, I wonder if that is even possible. Traditionally, it is proper etiquette to not discuss money, politics, and religion at the dinner table, but does that have to be the case with family? Shouldn’t they be the ones you can talk to about pretty much anything?
It seems as though the different family generations rarely see things eye to eye. My parents try and remind me that my grandparents “grew up in a different time,” like it’s supposed to justify my grandmother’s shock when a black family moved into my neighborhood. Growing up, I held my tongue when political discussion would arise, which wasn’t that hard since I barely had any political stance of my own. This year, however, it has proven to be difficult. I am older, wiser, and more opinionated than I was since the last election year, and siding with my parents on all the issues is no longer possible. I now have the urge to share my views rather than keep quiet about them. This isn’t just because I want my family members to think the same way I do, as nice as that would be. I want to be able to expand my knowledge on the opposing views, and expand their knowledge on mine (but it may also have to do with the fact that I can’t stand the idea of a certain orange freakshow becoming president).
I will always think of my aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents as older and wiser than me, because they are. They have been on this earth longer, seen and experienced more than I have, and because of this, will always be able to provide advice and insight on some aspect of my life. Just because I may not share their same political views does not mean I think I am wiser or more intelligent than they are. This, I think, is where the misunderstanding lies, and why intra-familial political discussions can be so difficult. The point of talking politics shouldn’t be to offend, it should be just that—talking…about politics. Sharing opinions and persuading the other person to maybe see things a different way, or at least understand where the other person’s opinion is coming from. With older family relatives, changing their perspective on an issue is Herculean a feat not even worth attempting. Their untold years of being involved in United States elections has planted them in whichever political party they’re affiliated with. I imagine that, with age, it gets harder and harder to stay open-minded on things one has firmly rooted their beliefs in for years.
When the conversation does come up, there are pretty much two routes a young adult can take: showing interest in everything your relative says without providing any opinion of your own, or showing interest and then respectfully providing your own point of view on things. Knowing which route to take all depends on the family dynamic. If it’s easy to open up and share it all with family, then putting your two cents in on a subject shouldn’t be that big of a deal. I have dabbled in both approaches, and in my personal experience it depended on the relative as to which one was most appropriate. When talking to one grandmother, it was easy to interject with my point of view on things, but ultimately proved useless because she showed no interest in what I had to add on the matter. On the other side of my family, though, differing opinions are viewed as wrong and offensive. So it’s best for me to just listen.
With that being said, it’s best not to let your emotions get the best of you in political discussion. As much as I respect someone who strongly relates to and speaks passionately about an issue, that respect can quickly diminish if their passion turns to anger and they lash out at anyone who has an opposing view, especially if they are family. Yelling and telling an uncle they are wrong is no way to successfully share an opinion.
I respect the fact that my relatives are strongly opinionated in their political thoughts and hope they can respect me for the same thing. In fact, they should respect me for the same thing, because having no stance on any political issue is worse than having one that’s different from my grandparents. I also hope that by talking politics with family members without letting the discussion get heated, we can all contribute meaningful perspectives.