(Or at your mom, uncle, child, friend, etc.)
I heard a story the other day about a woman who, before the election, would talk with her mom every day on the phone. In the weeks since November 8th, they’ve barely talked. The daughter, who voted for Hilary, is angry that her mom voted for Trump. She’s afraid that if she calls, her anger will take over and she’ll say something deeply hurtful. The mom is angry that her daughter hasn’t called. And she’s afraid that if they talk, her daughter will act distant and aloof, which hurts more than not talking at all.
Certainly, you’ve heard or experienced similar stories. Maybe over Thanksgiving you had to wrestle with the fact that you have one feeling about Donald Trump and someone close to you has a very different feeling. Maybe you’ve gotten into an argument or a fight about it. More likely, you’ve probably avoided talking about it, changing the topic when any hint of politics comes up.
These things hurt. We feel that when someone votes in a way that is so counter to our beliefs and our identity, that they have personally attacked or betrayed us. And right now, lots of people are feeling attacked or betrayed.
Some give the advice that we all need to work harder to see things from the other side’s perspective. And this advice makes sense. Have a grown-up conversation with your dad (or mom or uncle or child, etc.) . Ask him why he voted for Trump and then listen and say, “hmm, I hadn’t thought of that before. Thanks for sharing.” Or have a conversation with your daughter (or dad or aunt or friend, etc.). Ask her how she’s feeling about the election (knowing she voted for Hilary), and then say, “yeah, I can see why you’re upset about all this.”
But we know this isn’t how it works. Because when your dad starts talking about immigrants, or your daughter calls Trump supporters racists, this overwhelming feeling takes over. It is a mix of rage and sadness, rage toward the opinions, and sadness toward the fact that this person you love dearly holds those opinions.
And so how are we supposed to act like grown-ups when the thought of talking to your dad makes you anxious and queasy at the same time? Or if you hear your daughter say one more thing about Trump supporters being racists that you’re going to punch a hole in the drywall.
It’s easy to say we need to see the other person’s perspective. It’s easy to say we need to put our emotions aside and just talk like reasonable people. But for many of us, myself included, talking about politics with family scares us more than a face-to-face meeting with a tiger shark. We love our family. We don’t want to lose our cool and then be left with an even bigger elephant in the room for the next holiday.
So, let’s assume you are ready ease the tension between you and a loved one. You don’t understand how such a smart, loving person could vote for that candidate, or how they could believe those ideas. And you’d like to try to understand.
Well, here are five practical steps that might help.
1. Ask this person to meet you for coffee. It might be weird for you to ask your dad to meet you for coffee. Do it anyway. Tell him you haven’t gotten to have a good old father-daughter/father-son talk for a while.
2. Ask to hear their story. After the necessary small talk, say, “Y’know, I think we have different beliefs about politics, and I realized that I don’t know much about your story of how you came to believe what you do. I’d really like to just hear your story.”
3. Listen to their story. Say things like, “I can understand that,” and “So, were you and mom married at that time?”
4. Ask if you can share your story. If there's time.
5. Hug, say “I love you,” and cry a little, if necessary.