Election Day can often bring our deepest political divisions to the surface, but it doesn’t have to be this way! Here are some tips on how to stay cordial with friends and family, long after the election has passed.
Election Day Past and Present
Some of my earliest memories are from the 1988 presidential campaign when my grandfather ran for the Republican nomination. I was six. My big Super Tuesday memory consists of me twirling around after the balloon drop in my prized red patent-leather Mary Janes (just like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz). Sadly, those shoes ended up in the hotel’s “shoe heaven” and I still haven’t gotten over it thirty years later.Many of my political memories after that time weren’t quite as magical. I learned from a very early age how divisive politics can be, and the way that people can judge you based on what they might imagine your political views to be (whether or not they’re accurate).There was nothing quite like waking up on a Sunday morning to see an unflattering photo and article of Granddaddy splashed across the front page of the paper. But I’ll take those memories over the time I had to walk through a line of protesters en route to a political lecture my grandfather gave while I was a junior at Princeton. Fun times!
Our Political Landscape
Sadly, I think the world is a far less understanding place when it comes to understanding political ideology today than it was in the 1980s and ‘90s. I remember enjoying political discussions in elementary school. We didn’t all agree, but everyone respected each other’s differences and we learned a lot talking things over. During the last presidential election, my daughters’ school didn’t even have a mock election because it could be too polarizing.
This change reflects far less on the school than society as a whole. Many of us disagree on “the truth”. We have “fake news” and “alternate facts”. We can’t even agree on the definition of “is”, and yet, the Oxford Dictionary defines politic as “seeming sensible and judicious under the circumstances.” Is that how you would describe the state of American politics today, especially leading up to Election Day?
The loudest voices seem to drown out the rest of us who probably want to find common ground. The problem is, the lack of civility and respect we see from many of our political leaders leaves many of us too paralyzed and fear-stricken to say much of anything.
A Better Approach for This Year’s Election Day
But this doesn’t have to be the case! And we can use the approaching holidays, full of food and family-togetherness, to practice expressing our views in a way that brings us together, rather than drives us apart.
This suggestion might seem laughable– I get it! Family gatherings are usually the time when we forget our filters and who knows what we’ll say. Everybody has an Uncle Cletus or Aunt Bertie who makes extremely insensitive comments, both political and personal. So they might not be the first person you approach for some intellectual political discourse.
But whether your family is united around a set of core values, or you’re all over the political spectrum, here are three ways to keep a constructive discourse.
Value Your Family Members as People and Avoid Labels
At our core, we all long for a better world for ourselves and posterity. We just disagree on the method by which to achieve this better world. Remind yourself of this basic principle every time somebody says or does something that makes your skin crawl.
Much of the time, our arguments probably won’t focus around neatly drawn political boxes. In many families, different parenting or lifestyle choices will lead to the greatest areas of contention, and the same principles apply here, too. Instead of labeling relatives based on their choices, focus on relating to them as individuals.
Listen to them. Respect them. Remember the great qualities that you might love about them? Or if all else fails, find the cute puppy or baby pictures and relive happy memories of the past.
Unite Behind a Common Cause
You might not agree with your family members on most political issues. But there are universal causes most of us can unite behind. Why not come together and donate to a cause providing disaster relief for hurricane victims? Get involved with a great local charity, committed to alleviating child homelessness, like ForKids, or contribute to advancing the arts or education.Whatever your passion, find something you can rally around together, and maybe consider volunteering together this Thanksgiving. Think of the cool family memories you could make serving food at a local soup kitchen or with a group like Mercy Chefs?You don’t even need to find an organized charity. You could arrange to pick up trash together to clean up the environment for a post-Thanksgiving workout. When you’re working together for a greater cause, your political differences won’t matter as much.
Start Teaching Your Children About Politics and Civic Responsibility This Election Day
Teach them about the importance of the electoral process and why you vote on Election Day. Talk about posters of candidates you might see throughout the community. Educate them on how groups like Veterans for America might support Candidate A or C for the Board of Supervisors, City Council, Mayor, or Lieutenant Governor, and why. Other groups might have another favorite candidate.
Talk to them about the different types of political offices – including the president, governor, senators, representatives, and other legislators. Explain the differences between Republicans and Democrats– trying your best not to demonize “the other” party. See if they can make political predictions. Will we see a blue wave or red one this time?
Encourage your children to participate in the political process, even just by talking about politics. Election Day provides a fundamental structure that enables all of us to participate in our democracy. Educating your kids about the importance of voter turnout will hopefully encourage them to vote later. It also means they’ll feel more confident articulating their beliefs when they get older.
A Tool to Facilitate Family Political Talks
Even before you get together with your family in person, you can start the discussions now! My family has created a separate message board on FamilyApp specifically devoted to news and political discussions. It’s been a great way to keep politics and potentially controversial issues from clouding out the feed of general discussion and family photos.
We’ve also loved the thread as a way to introduce our kids to different political issues and generate family discussion. Added bonus: FamilyApp lets you edit your chats, too, which can be really helpful if you respond to something too quickly!
Election Day and Beyond
If we can get through a family gathering respecting and valuing our relatives as people, whether or not we agree with their politics, we can do the same when we’re with our friends and neighbors. So look for causes you can all get behind, encouraging the youngest members of your family to participate. When you educate your children about politics in a respectful way, you’re helping to create more responsible citizens for the future.