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How to stay graceful when a conversation turns political

How to stay graceful when a conversation turns political

Unsplash/Seemi Samuel | Unsplash/Seemi Samuel

We all know that moment.

A loved one, a family friend, a co-worker or the guy riding next to us on the subway makes an unwarranted, argumentative, politically charged comment.

You can feel the change in your body almost immediately. Your neck tenses up, your cheeks stain red and your breathing moves from your belly to your chest.

How could they say that?! The voice in your head shrieks, and you realize that you have approximately five seconds to decide if, and how, you should respond. Do I challenge them? Leave it be? Would leaving it alone be a silent form of agreement?

Your answer about which path to begin down might be different from mine, but I’ve found myself caught in this moment of tension more times that I can count. Perhaps you can relate.

More often than not, I struggle to balance my desire to love and honor people with my desire to lay bare the facts and take a self-important person on a pilgrimage of the human condition. The process of reaching a middle ground in political conversations often feels like a battle, especially when all the people who share my last name hold views radically different from my own.  Here are a few insights I have found to help the relational journey along when things turn political.

1. Assume the best of people.

If you go into any conversation, political or otherwise, with the assumption that the person you are talking to has the worst of intentions, you will enter the dialogue with bitterness and defensiveness.

While it may have been a word from the other party that got you two talking in the first place, take a step back and reevaluate your point of view. Believe that he or she, like yourself, values the exchanging of perspectives and enter into conversation giving them the benefit of the doubt.

2. Listen for the underlying messages.

Often times, what people don’t say is just as revealing as what they do. Especially when it comes to worldviews, we unintentionally package our beliefs according to things we love, hate and fear.

If you are engaged in a conversation and the person you’re speaking with makes an inflammatory comment, resist the urge to counter with a low blow. Instead, seek to understand where the remark is stemming from.

We will be remembered for the ways in which we navigated the dark waters that so often swallow up the most tender of relationships.

Most of the time, poorly formed beliefs come about as a result of misunderstanding, frustration and personal experience. While he or she may simply be speaking to create dissension, look for opportunities to steer talk away from black and white finalities by asking, “Can you help me understand how you came to that conclusion?”

3. Remember they are worthy of love and respect.

No matter how maddening or confusing a person may appear, no matter how well or how poorly they are able to articulate their point, when all is said and done, they deserve to be treated with dignity.

In the same way you can have confidence that you are valuable and your presence is needed here, remember that the person you disagree with also possesses those same graces. Agreeing with someone is not a necessary prerequisite to treat them humanely.

Lastly, keep an open mind. When we look at the big picture, people won’t remember how compelling our dialogues were, or how well we were able to dismantle their agenda. We will be remembered for the ways in which we navigated the dark waters that so often swallow up the most tender of relationships. Society tells us we must show complete strength, regardless of the consequence.

Instead, might I suggest that we choose grace in the midst of disagreement.

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