That’s also the picture we would like to take home ourselves.
Unfortunately, our real family gatherings are often not so idyllic.
People have different views, and that includes views on politics.
They don’t change those views just because you are all celebrating the holidays together.
Some of our nearest and dearest friends and family members insist on telling everyone
about their political views during the holidays and some really don’t know when to stop.
Conflicts are almost inevitable but there are ways to keep the peace in spite of all the
1. Know your own position
This may seem obvious, but in any conflict, the best way to stay calm is to know exactly
where you stand. People get flustered and insecure when they are uncertain about how
to answer a question or respond to a statement and they have a tendency to become
aggressive. It’s an attempt to defend themselves and their uncertainty, but it is very
So the best way to prepare yourself for political differences is to know your own mind as
well as you can. Then, the attacks will ‘only’ come from the outside and won’t be
magnified by your own inner doubts.
Try to think about the top couple points that are really meaningful to you and how they
came to be so personally important to you.
2. Set boundaries for yourself
Your loved ones may not know how to set boundaries or they may even actively try to
So, simply set your own boundaries. Know what you will tolerate and where you draw
Decide ahead of time what you will do when that line is crossed. A good repair might
include: I love you and this discussion is getting to polarizing for me. Let’s let this drop
for now and focus on how much we care for and respect each other and how we can be
Or, if you feel you can no longer keep the peace during the holidays, you could simply
excuse yourself to help out in the kitchen.
3. Really know (understand) your ‘enemies’
Of course, the best way to look at those political differences is not to see anyone as an
enemy. It is possible to see even an attack on your own political views as a desperate
attempt to make contact rather than attack on you.
However, it may not always be practical or sustainable.
So, remind yourself why your ‘antagonists’ hold those different views. Maybe there is
something in their life experience that makes them vulnerable? Are they motivated by
fear, anger, or grief? Try to hear each other’s life stories of pain and heartbreak that
have brought them to these cherished beliefs.
To take a page out of Parker Palmer’s book:
Rage is simply one of the masks that heartbreak wears. When we share the sources of our pain with
each other instead of hurling our convictions like rocks at “enemies,” we have a chance to open our
hearts and connect across some of our greatest divides.
4. Practice non-violent communication
That’s the gold.
Non-violent communication means that you don’t fight to win but to understand.
And even if the other side doesn’t do so well with the non-violent approach, you can
practice it yourself. You will find that it actually provides protection.
A few simple rules help a lot.
Don’t make general, sweeping statements that imply that Everyone Everywhere know
this to be Truth. Stick with only ‘I-statements,’ in other words, speak only for yourself.
Try not to use absolutistic words like ‘never’ and ‘always.’ Stick to the issue at hand, and
make it as small as possible.
As much as possible, try to agree to disagree.
Political differences are, after all, there to be discussed while you both remain friends.
You can support each other on a personal level. Non-violent communication means that
you remind each other of that, frequently. Tell your opponents how much you value
them. Evoke good personal memories.
And really try to understand! Don’t just fake it.
5. Practice anger management
Sometimes, of course, political differences are so deep that you cannot tolerate them
If a member of your holiday gathering voices opinions that threaten your survival, or the
survival of others, or the survival of the planet, anger is a perfectly normal response.
Take it as an opportunity to practice anger management.
Acknowledge your anger and its cause. Do that before it escalates too far.
Then give yourself choices as to how you want to act on it.
A good way to do that is, again, to remove yourself temporarily from the situation and
give yourself the freedom to think and breathe and self-soothe… Ask yourself: Is anger
really going to change anything at all?
Ask yourself if it’s worth taking this conflict further? If you think it is, what is your goal?
If not, maybe you all need a bit of a break.
6. Remind yourself why you are all together
Seriously, there is a reason why you are all connecting here during the holidays. And it’s
bound to be something more important than your political differences.
Try to remind yourself of that. Actively make it happen by suggesting activities and
celebrations. Remind others, too, but do so in a positive, non-violent way. Try to focus
your discussions on those things for which all of you are grateful.
7. Everyone can be a teacher
There is something you can learn from even your worst enemy and, hopefully, your
worst enemy will not share your holidays.
Try to find out what this learning can be.
This is the path to wisdom.