Editorial: Talking politics with your family

·4 min read

BY THE time Americans celebrate Thanksgiving a little over two weeks from now, the official results will probably already be known. You have to wonder how festive the celebration will be in families where the vote was split.

A day before the US elections, Reuters ran a story about a 41-year-old woman who had told her son, then 21, that she was going to vote for Donald Trump. “You are no longer my mother,” she claims he told her. “The damage is done. In people’s minds, Trump is a monster. It’s sad. There are people not talking to me anymore, and I’m not sure that will change.”

The story is based on just 10 interviews so it is anecdotal, at best. How well does it reflect the national picture? Hard to say. For families that are divided in their political preferences, it’s just as well that travel and social gatherings for prolonged periods are being discouraged. It may be safer on more than one level to put off a family gathering until the political conversation has calmed down.

It was so much easier to live with differences in political opinions before social media made these opinions more visible, more in-your-face. One could argue that social media access has made more people interested in politics than before, which is great. But then it has also made politics feel more divisive than before. It is no longer uncommon for people to insist that the right to their own opinions and to express these opinions freely also includes the right to ignore certain facts.

Seven years ago, when super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) swept across much of the Visayas, the power of social media to gather people for shared causes hit home. High school batches who had previously gathered only for the occasional reunion used Facebook to round up donations, share information about communities in need, and run complex relief operations.

It was all very moving.

And then, within weeks, social media turned into the online version of the dining table where one’s loudest relatives argued about how the relief operations were being handled, who was to blame and what they really thought of the people who disagreed with them.

One learned to compartmentalize quickly and to avoid some topics when catching up online. This year, Trump’s impending defeat makes me feel relieved for loved ones and friends in the US who will finally get a break from the practice of politics as mere spectacle. They will, by January 2021, be led by someone much better prepared for what the office demands; someone capable of making measured and reasonable statements. Boredom by public policy discussion has never seemed more appealing

It’s a relief I can’t really speak about with some of them, though. There are people in my life who believe that certain recent events, like the US election results or the revived discussion here at home on the sexual orientation and gender identity expression bill, are signs of doom. It’s not a conversation I’m prepared to have.

And yet I will have to learn to have those difficult conversations again soon. By this time next year, the early frontrunners for the Philippine presidential elections in 2022 will have emerged. We will likely be surrounded, on both social media and offline life, by the political opinions of the people whose company we keep.

Ignoring politics at all won’t be a responsible option. Will keeping our political opinions to ourselves be much better? I don’t know about that. If a loved one or a more distant relative should reveal that he or she intends to support an ill-prepared aspirant to the presidency, I’m not sure I could hold my tongue. I’m not sure I want to give up any attempt to change their mind.

What might help? The author Karen Armstrong, who wrote “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” shared a useful question to hold ourselves in check: “How often do you belittle other people in your mind to make them fit your worldview?” Reflecting on this sounds like a good place to start. That and remembering that people are far more complex than their political choices.