Well, we made it to the end of a very rough year, thanks in large part to our support for one another as we spend each day hashtag-resisting. But now we’re approaching that time of year when many of us sit down with Republican family who might not share our political alignment. What to do?
Start by taking a look at the civil rights movement. The movement can be an opportunity for understanding, with the help of four simple steps. And it may sound unlikely, but it’s true: You can apply techniques honed during the fight for equality to contentious dinners with Republican family.
A Legacy of Nonviolence
Now, more than ever, returning home for the holidays is likely to be a time of strife. But if activists have been employing these methods for decades with proven success, surely you’re up to learning them so that Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year, Mawlid an-Nabī or whatever gatherings you celebrate can be an opportunity to come together.
And that’s important, because one of the best ways that you can have an impact on future elections is by helping your family and friends understand why their vote for Donald Trump hurt you.
We know these techniques work, because they’ve been put to the test over decades. And they’re easy to practice, because they’re simple enough: Listen; talk about feelings; address needs; and make an ask. Let’s break them down.
Step One: You Start Simply by Listening
Resist the temptation to argue (for now). When relatives offer unpleasant rhetoric about Donald Trump, equality, LGBTs, immigration, or any number of issues, you may want to fight back, to tell them they’re wrong, and to call them out. While that might scratch an itch, it won’t help them understand you. It’ll only make them put up more of a barrier.
Just listen. (For now.)
Then recap what they’re saying. You don’t have to agree with them — just let them know you heard them by acknowledging what they said.
Step Two: Talk About Feelings
Remember to keep it non-judgemental, and to avoid accusations. Tell them how you feel about Trump’s policies or politics or public officials. Ask them how they feel. As before, listen and resist the urge to argue. Once you’ve talked about how you feel, move on to step three.
Step Three: Talk About Basic Needs
We all have basic emotional needs, like the desire to be loved, to feel proud or to be safe. Ask your Republican family why their politics are what they are, and why they support the politicians they do. Ask them why they want what they want. Then ask them how their political stance supports their needs. Try to get them to talk about those fundamental human needs, and let them know what your needs are, too.
You’re going to need to cycle through steps one through three several times — they don’t all happen in sequence. Listen. Talk about feelings. Talk about needs. Mix up the steps or do them all at once. If it’s working, you’ll feel trust opening up and everyone understanding each other.
Step Four: The Ask
That’s the request — not a demand! — that you make of your relatives. It can be small and modest, like asking them to read an article. Or it can be big, like coming with you to a march. But ask them for something that you think they can do, based on your knowledge of their feelings and needs. And be ready to hear them make a request of you.
These steps are only the beginning of a process. Your relatives won’t suddenly change their minds over the course of a 45-minute dinner. You’ll need to practice listening and speaking from the heart for a long time. But fortunately, we have one year to go until the next major Congressional election. That’s just enough time to put these techniques into practice and see some results.
Featured image by bravobravo via iStock