A guide to productive debate
We all have that special some- one in our lives who thinks very differently from us about politics. We may love grandma or our 20-year-old nephew, but when it comes to politics, we just don’t see eye to eye. Usually this can be handled with sprightly conver- sations mixed with humor and love. However, the most recent election, with its dramatic and polarizing differences, seemed to intensify worries and fears on both sides. Daily media reports bring a new twist and turn every day, and it is impossible for many of us to let sleeping dogs lie and talk about baseball and Chicago summer events.
It can be emotionally treacherous to challenge the political views of a loved one. Many people, to some extent, feel personally defined by their political identification. So for your nephew or grandma, there may be more at stake than pulling them to the political right or left. That dear relative may actually take your political assertions as personal rejection or criticism. Such questions may arise as, “Do I have to be wrong whenever I talk with my dad? Can’t he listen to me?” Or “Why is my brother always so condescending to me?”
So remember that when you push your political view there may be a subtle, un- spoken lower-level conversation going on: “Am I loved by this person?”; “Does he or she even have the capacity to love me?”; “How come I’m always wrong?”
You may, with your superior reasoning, win the argument, but you may have ruptured your relationship with someone you love. Is it worth it? And what if the request to debate comes from that loved one? Then what do you do?
There is an old saying, updated here: “A man or woman convinced against his or her will is of the same opinion still!” So here is an important precept and a few suggestions that may help you at that next family dinner or outing.
• Goal: I want to be closer to this per- son rather than more distant when we finish our conversation today.
• If you want to talk politics, first ask your loved one if she or he would like to talk about or exchange some ideas on the current U.S. political situa- tion. Your loved one may actually not feel up to talking about anything except her arthritis or a loss at work. Take this as a hint to back off.
• If your loved one is willing to listen and talk, try to express yourself with consideration and empathy for how she or he may experience what you are about to say. This may help you temper the passion you no doubt feel, so that a view, gently expressed, may be better received.
• Keep in mind that you will probably not make any major world change in this one conversation. Consider continuing the dialogue, for example, over 10 to 30 conversations. Open, loving, accepting conversations often lead, with time, to many positive changes.
• If the conversation should deterio- rate into anger or personal hurt, you risk losing the opportunity for future conversations down the road.
• Know and remind yourself that you are not responsible for other people’s political views. It is a democracy and we all have a right to our own position.
Walter D. Miller, LCSW, is a New Eastside resident and clinical social worker. Contact him at 312-856-0230.