Between Christmas and Thanksgiving, we often find ourselves spending quality time with those aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents whose political opinions vastly differ from our own. When your cousin posts a Bernie Sanders article on Facebook, you can easily scroll past it on your newsfeed without commenting. But when sitting at the Christmas table, where the eggnog and ham flow freely, that might not be as easy, particularly with the tension in the aftermath of the 2016 Election. I recently read an article on avoiding tough political showdowns at the table this season. So before you say or do anything rash this season, listen!
Set boundaries: Decide upfront what you’re comfortable about talking about with your family. By this point, you probably know the political leanings of your various family members, and more importantly that trying to change their minds is like shearing a pig: there’s a whole lot of squealing and you don’t get much wool out of it. In your head, think of some off-limit topics, and avoid them at all cost. If you’ve got family members who are particularly opinionated and argumentative, you can also agree on a “no politics at the table” rule. Yet a lot of times, such rules aren’t easy to enforce.
Avoid political triggers: Even if you aren’t trying to start a political discussion, there are certain topics that are going to trigger that. Perfectly innocent questions can trigger an argument. Asking your cousin why she isn’t married yet, for example, could trigger an argument about feminism. Often-times, politics will come up naturally; if you talk about your friend getting laid off, then that could start a debate about the economy, which could trigger a discussion about Obama’s role in that, and then your sister and your grandfather are in a shouting match.
Don’t evaluate somebody’s politics: A political rant might be a side story in the bigger picture. Let’s say your uncle is frustrated that he can’t get a job, and is venting by complaining about immigrants taking our jobs. Even if you disagree, this doesn’t have to necessarily turn into an argument about politics.
Don’t interrupt: Even if you want to change the topic quickly, and your uncle’s lecture on income inequality seems to be going on forever, cutting somebody off is rude, and could provoke tempers. Wait until somebody finishes their opinion or asks you a question before you try commenting or changing the topic.
Change the subject: If a political argument is on the horizon, you can always change the subject, and do it in a way that’s more tactful than “so how about that weather we’re having?”. Let’s say that your sister and grandfather are about to get into an argument about the prison system. Start talking about “Orange is the New Black” and how TV has been doing so many exciting new things. That way you can divert the discussion from prison reform to Netflix.
Have an escape route planned: Political arguments are inevitable sometimes, even if you can skillfully navigate around triggers, stay away from off-limit topics, have a “no politics” rule and tried so hard to artfully segue from Syrian refugees to new restaurants. Think of a respectful way to derail the conversation; say something like “I appreciate your opinion, but we’ll have to agree to disagree” or “interesting, I’ll have to think about that”. Hopefully they’ll back down, but if not just keep reiterating yourself, and say “it’s okay that we don’t feel the same way”.