If you find yourself regularly fighting with friends or family members over politics, the pandemic, or concerns about our country, you're not alone. What’s happening in the nation is causing bitter feelings as political division is taking it’s toll on friendships and families.
It may feel easier to hang out with people who think like you, but when you surround yourself with only like-minded people, you’re missing out on personal growth that allows you to learn empathy and compassion. Some of the people you would exclude from your life would be family members, friends, and potential business partners. You would be missing out on seeing and hearing about each other’s reality and uniqueness; to be honest, life would be quite boring. Creativity and innovation happen when we are exposed to a wide range of viewpoints. To disconnect from others to avoid challenging our mindset would be a terrible mistake for our present and future.
Mental health experts are recommending the following suggestions to help you come together and discuss your concerns while maintaining compassion and understanding. These will help you take a big first step in healing division.
1. Set goals and boundaries for your conversation. These personal conversations are best done between two people and not on social media. The sole purpose is to communicate that although you may not share the same perspective, you are curious to hear their point of view. Remind them that you love them and don’t want political differences to ruin your relationship.
2. Choose active listening. You may think you’re a good listener because you can repeat what your friend or family member said, but good listening includes eye contact, not interrupting, and avoiding assumptions. You don’t have to agree with them, but you do have to validate their feelings and avoid trying to "win" the discussion.
3. Change your objective. The objective for the conversation is to understand both sides. Trying to win or conquer the other person’s feelings is controlling and shuts down communication. The happiest couples , friends and family feel understood not coerced.
4. Be curious and ask questions. Instead of assuming, ask questions to better understand or for clarification. For example, "Can you tell me more about that," or, "What makes you feel that way?" Questions demonstrate respect and interest.
5. Be aware of the person’s mood and ask them if they are okay with continuing the conversation. Sometimes when people are talking about values or intense feelings, people get sidetracked, discouraged, or enraged. They may have had a particularly bad day, making it a bad day for an intimate conversation. Following up with them later is a good way to indicate you’re genuinely interested and not dismissing their opinion.
6. End the conversation with the intention of maintaining the relationship. Before you leave, thank the person for sitting with you and openly discussing the topic. Remind them that your relationship with them matters most. Be patient and understand talking about tough topics isn’t easy; you both took an action of bravery and compassion for each other to sit down and seek understanding.
We will not repair our division overnight, and some people may never be able to repair theirs. However, choosing healing, unity, and understanding is the bravest thing we can do right now. Social media cannot heal us, nor can rhetoric or what we read in the news. Our biggest opportunity to heal and move forward is a conscious decision within each of us, that we are better together than apart. Be brave and take the step today…one discussion at a time.