Wherever two or more are gathered, there are politics. And conflict. Exchanging views with others can be fun and interesting – it can expand our thinking. But troubles can arise at holiday get-togethers when political discussion is not the purpose of the gathering.
Someone bringing up politics doesn’t have to ruin the party. Say we’re at a gathering and Uncle Richard loudly makes a comment implying the natural role of women really is to stay home and out of government. There’s that sudden tense silence while everyone waits to see what happens next. If we strongly disagree with what he said, we’re in a bit of a bind. Silence is generally taken as agreement and we don’t want others to think we agree; but we also don’t want things to escalate into an argument.
We can learn to step into that silence and express our disagreement without making personal attacks or discussing it further.
First, we take a breath, and then calmly state that we disagree with the opinion just expressed. Point out that discussions of the issues raised could be valuable, but this is not the place or time. Be nonconfrontational, but firm. Using humor can be an especially effective way to address the situation. Just be careful that it doesn’t attack others. We must then refuse to engage further. Change the subject and move on.
It is important to our self-worth to stand up for our own values. We have a need to live in alignment with our beliefs as much as we can. Some of our dread of mixed-politics gatherings has to do with the unfairness of only one “side” getting to express themselves. Having to swallow our opinions too often just to avoid making waves leads to resentment and, often, we no longer want to go to gatherings we used to enjoy.
Of course, we don’t have to speak up about every comment that strikes us the wrong way – we need to let minor remarks pass. Which we consider minor is up to each of us to determine. A good way to tell is to ask ourselves, if, when the party is over, we’d regret not saying something in response.
All this said, there are definitely people who make inflammatory remarks not to express a true belief, but to stir the pot. We can generally tell who they are and we don’t have to play that game.
If we choose to confront statements we find highly objectionable, we will need to increase our tolerance of the discomfort that comes from calling out those comments. We can become more comfortable with allowing open disagreement. And that includes listening to others expressing disagreement with us. In spite of our best intentions, we all make mistaken assumptions about who agrees with us.
If we usually love the hoopla of the holidays, we don’t have to dread them because of political differences. We can still love our Uncle Richard, strongly disagree with his political views, and continue to enjoy family gatherings. This is not necessarily easy. But in these times of very visible political divisions, this is necessary work for getting along during the holidays and beyond.