Article by: Callie Albaugh, LAMFT & Mathew Meyers, LMFT
As we turn the corner into fall, we face a seemingly uphill battle into COVID and Election season, met with deep, polarizing views of how to move through it all. Along the way, we come across family members, friends, and co-workers with varying views that may either align or misalign with our own. The stakes are high – these issues we’re facing have an impact on all of our livelihoods – emotionally, physically, and financially. It can feel threatening to be in relationship with people that have different perspectives from our own, and at times it may feel easier to avoid the conversations, or even the people, altogether. But this isn’t the best way to be in healthy relationships. We can’t expect each person in our lives to have the exact perspective as our own (how boring!). So, what do we do? Avoid everyone until New Years? No! (Well, at least six feet apart for the time being). You can nourish your relationships AND have courageous conversations.
Why should we seek to enter respectful dialogue with someone whose “truth” is out of touch with “reality”?
If you were able to stomach watching the first presidential debate, you know that what you saw was two grown men devolving into childlike playground behavior. “He did it first – no I didn’t, you did”. What does this behavior model for our children?
When all we see is an adversary, we lose the ability to express empathy and compassion. When this happens, we can begin to treat the other as an enemy. The behavior that follows contributes to a deepening of entrenched point of views and confirms the beliefs about us in the other that we are unkind, spiteful, condescending, and contemptuous people.
How do we have helpful, meaningful conversation with others while maintaining respect for ourselves and the other party? People hold their political views closely to their chests. For many, their political beliefs are rooted in their identity. With that in mind, it’s understandable why many people feel attacked or threatened when having these discussions with different-minded people.
First, check in with your emotional state and how your body feels. When feeling threatened, our bodies go into a Fight, Flight, or Freeze mode. Note where you are at, and acknowledge what your body needs. If you notice your emotional and physical state heighten or change drastically (i.e., your body either tightens and races or suddenly goes numb), you may need to implore some calming exercises before having this discussion. In order to have healthy conversations, we want to start in a place of peace.
Safe relationships acknowledge and accept the different perspective we all have. The beauty of us all being unique individuals are the different perspectives we each bring to the table; yet this same beauty can also appear treacherous at times. When we aren’t attuned to our bodies and minds, we may believe that these different perspectives are a threat to ourselves, a betrayal or disloyalty. Now, you don’t have to agree or even like another person’s perspective; however, you need to respect and build understanding of their point of view if you want to create and maintain safety in your relationship.
Blaming doesn’t help us with forward movement. It keeps us stuck in a repetitive feedback loop going in circles. When we feel the urge to blame, (i.e., ‘It’s your fault’ or ‘If X didn’t happen, then we wouldn’t be here) it’s time to revert back into that inner check-in with our emotional and physical state. Acknowledge what’s coming up for you internally – Are you hurt? Frustrated? Scared? Lean into it and dive deeper. That’s how we take steps forward.
Remember a human being is across from you. Separate their political beliefs from their identity as a human being. In fact, separate your own humanity from your beliefs. You are a human and part of a human family. No political party defines your identity.
What to Do If the How Doesn’t Work:
Sometimes, we aren’t in a mental state to have these courageous conversations. Our emotions bleed out, and we aren’t able to pull it back in and we go to blame. Perhaps, it’s the other person in the conversation that is having a tough time respecting the courageous space with you.
In circumstances like this, many have found it helpful to construct a declaration of your values; this technique promotes respect for each other’s boundaries and a way to validate each other’s unique, albeit different, perspectives. “This is how I’m choosing to navigate X.” “This is what I value and how it impacts my beliefs, and I want you to respect that.”
In these conversations and relationships with others, try switching your focus from Demanding Change to Influencing Others. We have the opportunity to learn from one another through our different ideas and ways of looking at the world. When we DEMAND that people change their perspectives, we’re demanding they change the way in which they root themselves in their worldly perspective. It may in fact engage the Fight, Flight, or Freeze mode and create more conflict than you anticipated. If we manage ourselves and avoid seeing the other as an adversary, we may be able to lay the groundwork to have influence and be influenced by the other. “The way I live my life and view my world may be different than yours, AND I have the opportunity to learn and grow from others through sharing those perspectives for continued growth.”
More Food for Thought:
Braver Angels is an initiative by Bill Doherty to build bridges of understanding of differing perspectives in more collaborative and respectful space. Braver Angels explores deeper into how we can have healthy discussions, particularly in the political world. Their belief is rooted in understanding opposing political opinions and creating common ground for understanding. They identified a forward-thinking pathway toward de-polarization, The Emotional and Intellectual Transformation of De-Polarization. The purpose of the Transformation is to move from contempt and intolerance to respect and dignity.
Hatred (“They are enemies”) – Disdain (“They are deplorable”) – Pity (“They’ve been duped”) – Basic Respect (“They have something to contribute”) – Respect and Appreciation (“They have a lot to contribute”)
You can find out more about Braver Angels (including the resource mentioned above): https://braverangels.org/our-story/#our-approach
It’s my hope for you that as you walk into this intense season of life, you’re able to maintain and grow your relationships (both like-minded and not) through courageous conversations. Humankind thrives off healthy relationships – we need our relationships now more than ever.