The A to Xi Guide to Talking Politics at Home This Holiday Season

By Kelly Johnson

Whether you’ve been counting down all year or the thought of coming home makes you want to scream, the holidays can elicit a lot of complicated feelings.  2020 has been anything but boring in terms of the news this year, and with a plethora of multifaceted issues on the forefront of everyone’s minds, the thought of having to talk politics with family members you might disagree with can be overwhelming to say the least.  

I will be the first to admit I’ve had my fair share of  ugly-cry-at-the-table sort of discussions with my parents over politics.  Hearing people you care about not understand or completely shut down your points on things like BLM, women’s health care, climate change, etc., can make you feel super defeated.  You might find yourself asking, “What’s the point if they’re not even going to listen?”

You are not alone. 

A lot of the time, talking to people about issues can sort of feel like screaming into the void.  You make the same points over and over.  Your well thought out points are backed up by research and facts you learn in class, yet in response you get Facebook news quoted at you. Seriously, why try, right?

First off please do not use fear to justify not talking about what for some people are life or death issues.

Know that you’re probably not going to change your loved one’s opinion in one conversation.  If you walk into a debate with your parent/sibling/cousin/grandparent expecting to win, you’ve already lost.  This is not a high school speech and debate team.  At the end of January chances are you won’t return to school having turned your dad into a firm believer on universal healthcare.

When talking politics with your family, you have to be strategic.  Don’t get caught up in the heat of the moment, but instead really think about who you’re talking to.  Is this family member going to be receptive to a discussion with you or are you better off leading by example.  

As someone who grew up in a super strict Catholic household, I know that the best way to change my mom’s opinion on things such as abortion and the LGBT community is not trying to debate her but rather being an example for her, whether that means being outspoken on issues of women’s healthcare or reminding her that things like using someone’s preferred pronouns are polite, not p.c.

Maybe someone in your family likes to play “devil’s advocate.”  In this case I would advise picking your battles.  Is this actually what they believe, or are they just trying to rile you up.  Your energy is precious.  Protect and preserve it for other conversations that are actually going to go somewhere.

If you’re trying to talk to younger siblings, know that especially at this point in their life, they’re probably just repeating things they’ve heard whether it’s from your parents or online.  Maybe your twelve year old brother hasn’t grown out of his “FEMINIST POWNED SNOWFLAKE MELTS” phase yet.  The best way to talk politics with younger siblings is breaking things down.  Chances are if your little sibling is under the age of sixteen, they don’t really understand the nuances of things like police violence.  Roleplay as John Green and try to break it down in a way they can understand.  

When talking to elder family members, remember that they have lived longer than you.  Does that mean they are correct? No, but it does mean they expect you to be wrong.  Sure, you took Econ 101, read a few articles, and now you don’t think trickle down economics is effective or beneficial to anyone but the rich, but they lived during the Reagan Era. What you studied in history, they lived through.  Use this to your advantage.  Is your grandfather against the idea of free public college? Remind him that he received his college degree as a result of the G.I. Bill.  

Regardless of age or gender, your best shot at changing people’s minds is getting them to put themselves into the issue you’re talking about.  Make it personal.  The more impacted by the issue people feel, the more likely they are to really care about it.

To all the Eta’s talking politics with your families this holiday season, we’re there for you.  These issues can be draining and disheartening to discuss but it is necessary that we have these conversations.  You might not walk away from the dinner table this year feeling like you’ve made much progress with your families, but as individuals we have an ethical responsibility to stand up for the right thing, and that starts in the home.  

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