My family and I are serious foodies, and MOST of us love spicy food. Sometimes this gets us into trouble – for example – my Dad and I just boiled some arbol chiles (see picture above) for our tacos al pastor recipe and the steam was so potent that we had to go sit outside on the porch to relieve our coughing fit. After washing my hands three times I am still afraid to take my contacts out!
Political conversations in 2020 can also turn dangerously spicy in an instant. Sometimes the only way to avoid being burned is to leave the room as fast as possible. Sometimes emotions flare hot enough that relationships can be irreparably damaged. With the amount of division in our political climate and in our national media, most days the idea of civil political discourse seems like a fantasy. But guess what… it doesn’t have to be this way.
Over the last year or so – my parents, my wife, and I have had a breakthrough. We can now talk about the most precarious and nuanced cultural and political issues of our time and still love each other after it’s all over. Better yet, we actually find it refreshing and energizing to engage in such meaningful topics and to learn from one another! The blood pressure and volume levels rarely rise too far above normal, and we actually feel more connected after it’s over.
My hope for this blog is to provide you with ingredients that can help you and your loved ones have healthier conversations during this controversial political season. As you read them, please comment on other things you have found helpful or ways that you disagree with what works for us.
- Love. We must care deeply for those who we are speaking with and have compassion toward them.
- Mutual Respect. We must give every person the dignity and value they deserve, and this takes extra intentionality across generations. Too many young people disregard the opinions of older generations and vice versa. We young people need to realize that our elders grew up in a different age have their own unique experiences, and we can learn from their stories. And likewise, older people need to realize that the ability for young people to see things in a new light and challenge the “old guard” is often how society moves forward throughout the course of history.
- Open Minded. Listen first, talk second. Have the mindset of a “learner” and not a “teacher”. This is a crucial point when specific issues are being discussed (i.e. racism, sexism, immigration, etc) and one of the parties has more knowledge or personal lived experience. For example, on the topic of racial injustice in America, more white people need to listen to minority voices. On topics of sexism, men need to listen more to women. We can all improve in this area.
- Limit your expectations. Don’t go into a conversation with a “goal” or an “endgame” of what you hope you can “convince” the other party of before the conversation ends, or you will get defensive or feel pressured or disappointed if the flow of conversation does not go the way you intended.
- Equity of talk time. If one party dominates the time of discussion then it has shifted from a conversation to a lecture. A good way to avoid doing this is to focus on asking more questions and listening to other’s responses.
- Limit interruptions and counter-arguments. Let those you disagree with get their points across, and then don’t feel obligated to respond with all the ways you disagree with right away. Many of us are verbal processors, and if you try to “out argue” or “shut down” what someone says right after they are vulnerable with you and share their opinion, the conversation will no longer feel safe.
- Humility. You won’t have much luck in these types of conversations if you think you have all of the answers. It quickly becomes clear (no matter what side of an issue you are on) when you think you are the lone messenger of truth on a certain topic. People will tune you out. Plus, when we bring our pride to the table during tough conversations we can end up getting our feelings hurt too easily as well.
- Avoid difficult conversations over social media. It just creates a bad look for everyone involved.
Good luck and wear a mask! 🙂