We embark upon the holidays with a pink elephant at the Thanksgiving table: the election. And like myself, many of you will be carving turkey with opposition supporters.
If we want the national sentiment to shift away from far-right rhetoric, we need to engage in uncomfortable conversations with those who don’t share our political beliefs. Speaking with those who validate us is ineffective toward accomplishing political growth. Now is a prime opportunity to make an impact.
As Martin Luther King promoted physical nonviolence in protesting segregation laws, so too does our modern society need to adapt a principle of verbal nonviolence.
The following are suggestions I strongly urge all to embrace, listed in order of participatory comfort. I have used these guidelines in direct conversation with political opposition supporters since the Primary elections, as well as with those I have successfully politically swayed in favor of my marine conservation activism. Try them.
Step 1: Listen.
Just listen. Ask questions to get to the core of their belief system. Approach with genuine curiosity. Don’t present counter facts to invalidate or nullify the expressed beliefs. They can feel our judgement, and we do judge them. If they see us withholding contempt, they will feel comfortable opening to constructive discourse. This is where I’ve discovered the underlying concerns and goals that do align with my own. When we listen, they are more willing to listen to us.
Step 2: If they become angry, let them.
If you’re not ready to let them, quietly excuse yourself from the room for ten minutes. If you’re ready to hear it, hold a safe space for their anger to be expressed, and don’t reciprocate it. Don’t say anything until they’re finished speaking, no matter how loving or kind. This may take 45 minutes; that’s okay. They will inadvertently mollify their tone if no counter anger arises to buttress an attack. A behavioral psychologist once instructed me apply this tactic to an explosive family member. It worked. I’ve since employed it with politically conservative friends and family, with success. Emotionally detach from their words; even if explicitly directed at us, their anger is not personal.
Step 3: Meet them with compassion.
When they finish speaking, tell them, “I understand why you feel this way. I hear you.” If you feel comfortable, also say, “Thank you for voicing your beliefs. I know there has been hostile opposition of your political party and viewpoints, and I’m sorry that my party has ostracized you as a whole.” This does not declare that you agree with their politics– just that you are willing to acknowledge them as human.
Step 4: If the atmosphere welcomes it, present your own viewpoints in a similar manner.
If they interrupt, ask if you can finish speaking and state that you would be happy to discuss individual points after. If it would be more constructive to write a letter referencing journalism articles which support your views after the holiday, then stand up for your beliefs this way. I sometimes refrain from rebuttal for several days, calmly and constructively collect my thoughts, and return to the discussion with respectful feedback. It’s acceptable to not have the perfect argument ready at our fingertips. If it would be fruitful to verbally outline boundaries before embarking on political conversation, do so. Be clear, but allow as much space for their opinions as you would like given to yours.
Step 5: Discuss shared beliefs.
If you feel ready to continue the conversation, thank them for taking the time to express their opinions and highlight the sentiments you do agree with. Ask how they propose we reform existing legislation, and offer any research supporting solutions. These shared interests exist, albeit possibly not with everyone. However, in my experience, I have not yet spoken with 1 person not in immediate political agreement with me that I have not found common ground with on at least 1 area of an issue.
Will you change political beliefs immediately? Probably not. Will these guidelines solve the political turmoil we face? Not in isolation; activism is a necessary complement to this approach. Does that mean this dialect is worth promoting? Absolutely. We need to embody the peace we repeatedly criticize others for not embracing. We evoke empathy in others by first practicing it ourselves.
As Dr King astutely observes, “To succeed in a pluralistic society, and an often hostile one at that, the [minority group] obviously needs organized strength, but that strength will only be effective when it is consolidated through constructive alliances with the majority group.”
This starts with us.
Disclaimer: Charlotte Grey does not claim any professional training in social work or psychiatry. The suggestions listed on this page and on this website are meant to inspire supplemental treatment options for self-help. It is recommended that professional treatment be combined with any solutions discussed herein for suspected or known psychological or psychiatric malady, and that the content of this website not be used as substitute for professional treatment.
writing © Charlotte Grey Writings
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