• Living with Difference: Navigating the Political Divide

    The election is days away. Are you facing tough conversations with loved ones?

    November 3rd is fast approaching, and this year’s Presidential election reflects a sharp political polarization that continues to split the nation in two. As the election nears, many are finding it more and more difficult to engage with individuals on the other side of the spectrum, especially if those individuals are family, friends, or even significant others.

    The political climate in the United States has become more divided as the Presidential election has drawn near

    These differences may lead to anything from heated debates to full-blown screaming matches at the dinner table, and some may even dread being in the same room with their political opposite—a feat that may serve as a challenge when they are sharing a home.

    So how do we come to navigate being around people with differing views? It isn’t easy, that’s for sure, but here are a few tips for being around someone on the other side of the aisle.

    Tip #1: Set Boundaries

    One issue with political conversations is that we aren’t sure where to draw the line with what is brought up. This can look like mentioning topics or opinions that are hurtful, going after the person and not the idea, or perpetuating information that is untrue. Setting boundaries is about recognizing things have been said that you feel are not appropriate, and letting the other person know that a line has been crossed.

    For example, if you and a family member begin arguing about a topic and they start using outwardly offensive language, you may speak up and acknowledge that the conversation has crossed the boundary you have set. It is important to determine what boundaries you need and establish them with others as soon as possible, so that they are there to highlight if the moment calls for it.

    It is also worth noting that some individuals may continue to try and push those boundaries, and could very well be upset that you enforced them. Staying firm with your boundaries is a way to let others know when and why a discussion has gone too far, before it gets out of hand.

    Tip #2: Be Prepared to Respectfully Leave the Conversation

    Once you have set and enforced these boundaries, there may be times when you have to fully excuse yourself from the discussion. In these cases, it can be difficult to take a step back; sometimes it feels as though leaving the conversation is like giving up, or even “losing” the debate.

    However, setting boundaries isn’t about who caved first, but recognizing that a conversation is no longer productive. If the other party continues to disregard the boundaries you have in place or has made it clear that they will not listen to what you have to say, it means that the discussion is becoming a breeding ground for heightened emotions, instead of a place to debate opposing viewpoints. When you are establishing your boundaries, be sure to make it as clear as possible that you may have to exit the conversation if it reaches a certain point.

    As with the boundaries themselves, others may not take well to you leaving, for whatever reason. However, by staying engaged when it has dissolved into something potentially harmful could put further stress on your own mental health.

    Tip #3: Educate and Challenge, If Possible

    If conversations come up that we are passionate about, it can be easy to let emotions take the wheel. When this happens, it may become less of a conversation and more a series of verbal attacks—which, most of the time, lead nowhere. However, you may find yourself in situations where you have the opportunity to shine light on a topic; maybe you were asked to provide examples or data to support your side, or maybe the other person is describing information that isn’t true.

    No matter where you stand, being as informed and up to date as possible is critical when engaging in difficult conversations

    Either way, being as educated as possible on your stance can be valuable when engaging with individuals that have differing views. It is important to be thorough, and to utilize as many different sources as you can when doing your own research. Sometimes, it can even be helpful to keep a document or a notebook of sources and information, to references or share if necessary.

    It should be noted that staying up to date and educated is crucial in any context, but not every situation might allow for the education of others. In some instances, you may not feel comfortable yet—in many cases, younger relatives may not be ready to try and educate older relatives, and older relatives may respond poorly to a teenager or young adult trying to change their mind. In other cases, as mentioned above, some people simply may not be interested in listening.

    A good rule of thumb is if it appears that the other person is still not willing to listen after two attempts at providing information or resources, it may be a good idea to acknowledge your boundaries and remove yourself from the discussion.

    Tip #4: Actively Listen

    In today’s political climate, listening to individuals with opposing views can feel impossible. Especially when debating topics that you feel passionately about, or when hearing misinformation, it can be a reflex to jump right in. However, the act of listening can be incredibly powerful in more ways than one. This is why therapy can be such a valuable tool—feeling heard by others is a normal human desire. At the very least, think of a time when you were trying to get a point across, and the other person wouldn’t let you get a word in—frustrating, right? If anything, it likely dissuaded you from wanting to listen to what they had to say too.

    While you may strongly disagree with what the other person is saying, a phrase like “I hear you” or “let me see if I understand…” can ease people out of the defensive and be a bit more willing to hear your side of the conversation.

    That being said, it is important to acknowledge again that these topics can bring up strong emotions for both sides. Especially if one individual is using language that is offensive, for example, the last thing you may want to do is listen. Remember to be firm in your boundaries, seek opportunities to educate, and be ready to step away.

    Tip #5: Self-Care is Key

    Political conversations can be draining–taking time to care for yourself will be important as the election closes in

    Engaging in political discussions can be exhausting. When you are around somebody that has different views and every minute feels like a battle, our mental health can plummet. With the election coming up and political differences more pronounced than ever, it will be vital to keep self-care in mind whenever possible. This might look like:

    • Taking 5-10 minutes each morning or night to meditate
    • Spending time journaling, to express unpleasant emotions that are coming up
    • Going for walks or drives, if possible
    • Speaking on the phone with loved ones or friends that can help you talk through frustrating conversations

    Whatever your self-care method, staying aware of your physical and mental well-being when engaging in these interactions can make them a bit easier to manage.

    As the election nears, the divide between political ideologies continues to deepen exponentially. As you find yourself among family, friends, or peers with differing views, it will be important to recognize your own wellbeing as much as possible. While these situations can often feel like walking on eggshells, having a plan in place for how to navigate these interactions may help things feel a bit more in your control.

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