How to Talk Politics Without Starting a War

We love our friends and families. Up until the advent of social media and the evolution of the idea that politics shouldn’t be a private matter, family and friendly gatherings were much more peaceful than they are today. With an upcoming, contentious election and more divisiveness than ever, politics seems to creep into every conversation.

Have you found yourself re-thinking friendships based on what is posted on social media? Are you disappointed with people you thought for sure thought just like you? Are you dreading the holidays and the inevitable generational arguments about whoever wins the office of president? 

Well, get ready! The election is just days away and the fallout, I’m sure, will be memorable. By Thanksgiving, everyone will be champing at the bit to share their feelings, and it’s time for you to get in the right frame of mind to deal with it. But don’t worry, I’ve got some tips that will help keep the peace and maybe even draw your family a little closer together.

  1. You already know where everyone stands. Quit trying to change their mind. Chances are good that you’ve already been trying for quite some time. You know the phrase about “accepting things you cannot change”? Apply that here. No matter how much you want to win those you love and care about over to your way of thinking, you have to accept that they are their own people with their own perceptions. And perception, as they say, is reality. That means perception is a very, very strong thing, not something you can change over a turkey dinner or a Christmas ham. 
  2. Remember that an argument can only happen if both people engage. If one refuses, there is no argument. Believe me, I understand how hard this is. I’ve let my feelings and passions get the better of me when a family member or friend says something political that I think is absolutely absurd. But when I have raised my voice or bitten back, guess what the result was? Nothing by frustration, anger, and feet more firmly planted on each side. Arguing about politics is, quite frankly, pointless.
  3. If the person really wants to talk, then by all means do. This sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not. There’s a big difference between a discussion begun out of a desire to understand and an argument to prove you are right. Begin like this: “I’m not trying to start an argument, but I truly have a question I’d like your response to. I respect you and love you so I’m curious how you feel about this.” And then truly listen. Keep your mouth closed. Try to understand, just as you said you would. Don’t use the word, “but” as this immediately escalates the discussion.
  4. Set a tone of respect when friends and family gather at your house. If it’s your home, you make the rules. You know your group. If you fear there might be uncomfortable political talk, it’s okay to shut it down as soon as someone goes there. Simply say, “I know our world is all about politics right now, but I think we all need a break. Let’s agree to talk about everything else but, okay?” Then change the subject.
  5. Avoid triggers. Again, you know your group. If it’s a certain TV news program, turn it off. If it’s alcohol, limit intake. If it’s fatigue, gently tell the person that he seems agitated and maybe a nap would help. In my house, every time mom comes to visit, she likes to watch her favorite news channel. Unfortunately, this quickly leads to her yelling at the TV. So I asked her not to watch it when she comes to visit, to take a break from it all and just enjoy the family. She mostly complies, and I’m grateful that she tries.

What the world could really use right now is civil discourse, people who are calm, interested in learning, and open to discussion. We don’t have it, but I am prayerful that we’ll get it back. In the meantime, the one thing you can control is your home environment. Make it a place of respect, understanding, and patience.

Rebecca Deurlein
Rebecca Deurlein

Rebecca Deurlein is the author of Teenagers 101: What a top teacher wishes you knew about helping your kid succeed, and President of Teenager Success 101, a one-on-one academic coaching company dedicated to helping kids find success. She blogs and writes internationally, speaks to parents across the nation, and loves every minute of living in Sugar Land, TX. Find her on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Huffington Post, or through her own blog A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding Teenagers. All can be accessed at www.TeenagerSuccess101.com.