Jenna Gyimesi | Oberlin College

It is impossible to ask for the mashed potatoes and simultaneously give a a family member the silent treatment. The most passionate political debates I have witnessed have taken place across the family dinner table. These conversations, however, need not end in anger and frustration.

Many individuals try to avoid contestable political conversations, but engaging in such conversations may be inevitable and productive. I will offer a few hints to make political conversation civil, tolerable and beneficial this Thanksgiving.

1) Be ready to listen: The goal of your conversation should not be to change your family members political opinion, but to better understand it. By comprehending their view, and what motivates it, you will be better equipped to get them to understand your opinion and reasoning. Further, listening shows your family member that you respect them and their thoughts. If they think otherwise, they may show you the same disrespect and dismiss your arguments.  

2) Ask Questions: asking questions about why your family member holds a political opinion is the best way to get your family member to engage in self-reflection and analysis. Your questions, if posed strategically, may cause your family member to think more broadly than they have in the past.

3) Find common ground: Political debates can devolve into screaming matches. Learning to deescalate a situation is one of the most important skills a political activist can have. If political debate is no longer constructive, pointing out an area where you and the other party agree is an effective way to shift the mood of the conversation to one more suited for productive political discourse.

4) Be confident: If you are anything like I am, your opinions are central to your identity. Do not let a family members disagreement with your opinions personally insult you. Be open minded, but be confident in what you believe.  If you have legitimate reasons for your beliefs, do not let anyone's words derail your passion in pursuing them.  

5)  Choose your battles and choose your timing: Your family members will be more open to having certain political conversations more than others. If discussing a less contentious political conversation will be more constructive for the group, it may be a good idea to leave the contentious topic for another day. I am not insinuating that you should not have difficult conversations, but that you should carefully select when to broach such a subject. It may not be the best idea to bring up nuclear warfare when Grandpa is 3 bears in and his favorite NFL team is losing.

Family and politics can be a dangerous and scary combination. Follow these hints to have productive political discourse this holiday season.  

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