Today's political climate is more polarizing than ever. The 2016 Election incited passionate disagreement beyond what we'd seen before. This election was not just about the topics. This election was personal.
The campaign itself was stressful enough; debates in families, between partners, and among friends were extremely heated. Yet each side still had a grain of ambiguity on their side, tempering things just the slightest bit. After election night, shock, grief, disbelief from Hilary supporters. Rejoicing and equal disbelief from Trump voters. And, more than ever, a loss of language between the sides to explain and discuss what had happened and what was about to be happening as our new president embarked on four years in office.
"It's a difficult day when you hold some of your own family members you love, and friends you once respected, directly responsible for the voting into power of a man you despise," one acquaintance wrote on her Facebook page.
"How do I talk to my parents when I know they supported and chose someone who is outwardly and directly in opposition of who I am as a person?" another client wondered despairingly.
Conversations became more than just strained: they became outright hostile. And as controversy remains fueled by new political decisions and corresponding media coverage, disagreement is an itch that's not easily scratched, So how do you manage your own emotions and respond when the delicate and powerful topic of politics and/or our nation's leader comes up in conversation?
When your Uncle Jerry says over a slice of 4th of July Cool Whip cake, "thank goodness we got out of that climate club!" Don't choke on your red, white, and blueberries. Swallow. Take a deep breath. Know that already your body is responding negatively for you and you've got to give yourself the chance to counter it. When we feel threatened, our bodies have a parasympathetic response. Translation: we tighten up, heart rate gets constricted, we get seriously tense. Take pause. Breathe in. Breathe out. Give your body and brain a second to rebound and to think. Then proceed to the following steps.
2. Agree to disagree: Calmly respond with, "I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one." Then stick to your guns on this response. Don't enter into the actual discussion; instead, continue to breathe and respond only with "we'll have to agree to disagree" or "I don't think we're looking at this one the same, sorry to say," if the other party didn't immediately get the hint to move on.
3. Change the topic: After noting that you're agreeing to disagree, turn to another topic: ANY other topic (preferably not also in the realm of politics, religion, race, or anything that might further invite tension). Try to find something else that person cares about that's in the fully positive and neutral zone. "Have you planned this year's vacation yet?" or "What are the Orioles up to?" would be perfect.
4. Walk away: It's reasonable to expect that you've got to take a time out. I had a client who, rather than respond to provoking commentary, practiced excusing himself. We decided that when he felt Step 1 happening, he'd immediately step away into the next room to physically distance and collect himself. Usually, by the time he'd returned, the situation had naturally shifted. What's worse: making people wonder why you've just gone AWOL, or getting worked into a fit of rage and having to pick up the pieces later? I'd say going AWOL for a minute is a more than reasonable response to mounting tension. In fact, it's a quite healthy one. If you feel you can't reasonably or successfully shift the direction things are heading in, walk away.
Research strongly supports the idea that arguing about politics does nothing to change another person's opinion. Read: Arguing about politics may serve the sole purpose of stressing you out and causing strain in your relationships.
With all of the negativity, and terrible and inhumane acts of violence occurring in the world lately, we have to chose to model patience and grace wherever possible. This doesn't guarantee that others will; it only guarantees how you'll respond. After all, as I always say: the only person you're in control over is you.
But making the choice that chooses to step away from perpetuating conflict can be powerfully demonstrative. After all, it's exactly why this political climate matters so much to begin with: one person's choices in the world have the potential to influence many others.
In the midst of knowing that your parents voted differently than you or your colleague in the next cubicle has revealed some surprising beliefs with her political choices, breathe, agree to disagree, change the topic, and/or walk away.
Its a skill set that's easily transferred to many other delicate and rocky conversations in life. Now could be the best time to begin to exercise being the type of person you wish to see in your own leaders: whomever that may be.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Call (860) 339-6515 for your free initial 15-minute consultation.