by Robin Koerner
As the post-election dust settles, some Americans are feeling decidedly unsettled at the prospect of holidays spent breaking bread and making nice with relatives who voted for the other guy.
There is no need to be apprehensive, though, because each of us has the power to turn this holiday into a time of healing.
This year, if you’re sitting with relatives across both the table and the political aisle, try a conversational approach that starts with humility so the day doesn’t end up in pieces before the turkey does. It’s a choice that’s simple to make but takes effort to follow through.
Here are some simple principles to bear in mind:
You only have to feel what you consent to feel – you’re responsible for your own emotions.
When you feel the anger rising as that disagreeable relative starts spouting those opinions you find so ignorant, ask yourself why his views have power over your feelings. His views may be so harmful that they need to be challenged, but challenging them only does any good when you have a chance of changing them –
rather than putting him on the defensive by insisting on his wrongness with all your righteous energy.
Even someone with very different views from your own will express good intentions or reasonable concerns, and simply share various personal experiences. So focus on what you want to grow. Indicate an interest in any of those things rather than reacting only to incorrect claims, and you will direct the conversation to common ground and mutual appreciation, rooted in your shared humanity.
When you welcome people and information that disagree with your views, you can get closer to the truth.
Changing the minds of those with dangerous opinions depends on understanding why they hold those opinions. Ironically, listening with the goal of learning is usually the most effective way of getting someone to be open to learning from you.
Don’t discount others’ experiences just because they don’t support your beliefs.
If your life experiences had been different, you’d hold different beliefs too. Our brains come up with conscious justifications for our opinions only after we’ve arrived at them for reasons of which we are mostly unaware.
Those reasons lie in our lived experiences – which include our upbringing, traumatic incidents, books we’ve read, people we’ve met, ideas we’ve encountered, trust (or lack of it) in the sources of those ideas, and accidents of timing. If your life really has led you to know better than the next man, that may just mean you’ve been luckier than he – and not that you’re morally superior.
With that one family member who is so close-minded that no good can come of any political discussion, just don’t have the discussion! You’ll only entrench her in her view. You’re not a fish and you don’t have to take the bait. Decide, “I choose peace rather than this,” and then wait for the conversation to move on – or move it on yourself.
If asked about politics, just say you’re a humilitarian.
The only legitimate ends of politics are people. Post-election, our well-being again turns mostly on how we treat each other, including those who voted differently from us. It’s a contradiction to reject someone’s political views because they disrespect or marginalize others, and then to do exactly that in one’s own communication.
Humilitarian was recently coined as a shorthand for a set of principles rooted in humility, kindness, and even love, that make for effective discourse among people who politically disagree.
You can be a humilitarian with any political commitment – Democrat, Republican, conservative, progressive, Green, Libertarian, or anything else. Humilitarian isn’t a political position, but a way of doing politics.
Declaring yourself humilitarian tells everyone that the way you treat others is more important than their views; that you try to judge ideas without judging people; and that a moral commitment to improving lives should be stronger than an ideological commitment to a particular way of doing so.
When two or more humilitarians find each other, their disagreements become starting points in a search for common ground rather than positions to be defended.
We don’t have to wait for America to change around us because America is US.
So make it a very humilitarian holiday and use it to begin the change that you thought you were waiting for.
And perhaps give thanks that you can.