The other day I watched my five-year-old and her six-year-old friend get into a heated argument about politics.
And they sounded exactly like pretty much every adult I know right now.
I don’t know if it’s that the kids are mirroring the hatred and vitriol that the grownups around them are spewing, or if it’s just that all the grownups are acting like kindergartners lately, but I think it may be a little of both.
This year, everyone I know has lost friends, in real life and on Facebook. At every social gathering I’ve attended this summer, an argument has broken out over politics.
It’s hard not to be furious, and frustrated, and it’s hard to listen to people making appalling statements that go against every single thing we know in our hearts to be good and right and true. I admit that I may have “gone off” on a couple of people on Facebook. I have even wanted to physically hit people I know and love because they have said things that were so stupid that I completely lost my patience with them. Let me repeat that—I have gotten so mad that I felt like using physical force.
Luckily, I was able to control myself.
I’m a passionate person with deep convictions, and I feel strongly about fighting against the injustices in our world; however, I value my personal relationships with a diverse group of friends and family, too. And I also think that modeling tolerance, compassion and calmness makes a stronger political statement than fighting. Besides that, I know that to enact real change in the world, I first have to prioritize self-care and not let myself get overwhelmed and crazy.
Here are the strategies I use to retain my sanity and composure with people who are voting for the “wrong” side:
- Exercise Empathy. A lot of it. This election is giving us a great opportunity to practice seeing things from many different perspectives. Have gratitude for that. We need that to evolve.
- Make the choice to use current events as a chance to practice mindfulness. Consciously choose to remain calm, not to engage in angry debates, and to be gentle and open-minded.
- Understand that sometimes people can’t “help” their viewpoints. We are all products of the environments or the eras we are raised in, to a certain extent. Many are scared to question the values they were brought up with, they don’t realize they can change their minds, or they are at a point in their journey where they aren’t yet able to let go of old belief systems they may cling to.
- Accept that supporters on the opposing side feel just as strongly about defending their beliefs as you do. That means it’s highly unlikely, if not impossible, that you’re going to come up with a magical argument that’s suddenly going to change their minds and win them over. Change usually doesn’t work that way, so what’s the point of fighting? It’s a waste of time.
- Realize that “conservative” and “liberal” define “right” and “wrong” differently when it comes to many issues. Each side—and for that matter, each individual—creates their own standard of ethics, and while we often believe that right and wrong are black and white issues, they really aren’t. Chances are, the other side, the one you disagree with, is populated largely by supporters who sincerely feel they are fighting for good. Just like you do.
- Find common ground. I know this is hard, but it’s not impossible. What can we agree on? Start there and focus on that instead. We are the ones who may have to take the lead in this conversation, and it might be difficult, but we can do it.
- Always take the high road. Never compromise on this. Name calling, trolling, physical violence, yelling, causing public scenes, and the like are unacceptable behaviors. Do not sink to that level even if it is very tempting to do so. We are all better than that. Every human being, regardless of how annoying, ignorant, wrong, or awful they may be acting, deserves to be treated with dignity, respect, and understanding (even when they aren’t affording that to others).
- Create boundaries. There may be friends and loved ones who inflame our passions to such a degree that “hiding” them on social media for the time being may be a good idea. Avoid certain individuals if they are persistent about arguing politics or making offensive statements. While I generally am okay with interacting with people with vastly different belief systems from my own, I’ve recently realized that there are some things that have to be deal-breakers, and I’ve discreetly and politely ended a few relationships because people have crossed certain lines.
- It takes two people to have an argument. Walking away, changing the topic, calmly stating that you’d rather talk about something else, or closing your laptop screen or the Facebook app on your phone are all options. Use them. For instance, that really grating sister-in-law who constantly talks about her love for the candidate you can’t stand? Ask her for her delicious muffin recipe, or bring up a fun memory you once shared instead.
- Take a break from the news. I have to do this fairly often, and I find “fasting” from social media is even more beneficial, so I don’t get myself all worked up and freaked out. Staying informed is good. Obsessing over the headlines and succumbing to anxiety because of them is not.
- Get involved in your cause. Take real, concrete action toward creating the changes you argue for. Sitting around, complaining and ranting behind the safety of the screen, or starting crap with the people you know just because they believe something different than you do does absolutely nothing except spread more negativity and create deeper rifts. Fighting affects no real change or progress. Feel that strongly about a candidate? Go out and campaign. There’s a disenfranchised group out there? Go help them. Really upset about an injustice? Organize a non-violent protest. Even better, run for office yourself. Start small in local organizations and work your way up.
Want to truly win? As the saying goes, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Author: Victoria Fedden
Image: Tristan Bowersox/Flickr
Editor: Emily Bartran