Bringing up politics with family members can be a lot like putting salt on a slug. The two things can coexist just fine, but when they come together, bad things happen. Like, burns and foaming at the mouth bad.
That’s because politics isn’t for everyone, campaign seasons are too long, the heated debates can become relationship-enders and that stuff pales in comparison to casual observations about the weather or the familiar silence of screen scrolling.
What the actual crap is going on in our world? We are so polarized right now that magnets don’t even know what to do. And we have completely forgotten how to disagree with any grace, not to mention finding any sort of common ground.
Now, I’m not saying that our aim should be grace over all else (in fact, I just bemoaned the downsides of politeness two weeks ago), but we seem uninterested in even pretending to find compromise. Some even see compromise as weakness, impurity or lack of resolve.
And yet, it’s our ability to coordinate and cooperate that has sort of set us apart from our more primal ancestors (or used to, anyway), so we need to figure this business out or I’m afraid we’re doomed.
All of this became crushingly apparent the other day when my far more brave and wise friend wrote an astoundingly honest and risky email to his family asking them to vote this election season with awareness and conscience. He spelled out his concerns, he advocated for compassion, he shared links to credible information and he signed his letter, “With love, respect and hope.”
He wrote from his heart to people he respects and who might be willing to hear an opposing view from him — someone they’ve loved as long as he’s lived.
It was inspired, and several members of his family acknowledged lovingly that they had heard him.
I, on the other hand, am one of those who make weird and ambiguous noises to redirect politically awry remarks when talking with differently affiliated family members or work acquaintances. It’s the old acknowledge-without-agreement tactic that’s been my cherished method of avoidance for so long. I’ve valued ease over understanding. I think I might be part of the problem.
If I can’t figure out how to handle conflict with people close to me, how could I expect to handle it with anyone else? How could any of us? And how can we expect to be understood if none of us are out there seeking to better understand others?
Democracy only functions when we participate and have healthy opposition that we can transform into policy that best serves the majority of us. Our collective reluctance to discuss candidates, issues, processes and platforms with people in our spheres is threatening our ability to do either of those things.
So, it’s time to make politics great again. Disagree? Let’s grab a cup of coffee and talk it out.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.