Family Politics - Getting Along When Your Views Just Don't

10 years ago

I got a political forward from my cousin last week, the first of its kind this election cycle. It was surprising to me because the last time we talked about the candidates, I was shocked by her switch to someone I never dreamed she'd support. It was just coincidentally, also, to a candidate more in line with my own personal views, something that had never happened before.

During the 2004 election cycle, e-mail forwards poured into my inbox, and a number of them were from her. I tried to ignore them for the most part, knowing that they detailed things I didn't support and asked me to switch to a point of view that I never would. That trend seems to have largely dwindled this time around- I don't get the number of forwards I used to, which is probably because so much communication has gone mobile, and it's hard to text a political screed (at least one of more than 20 words or so.)

Last week's e-mail indicated that we were once again on opposite sides of the aisle. Curious about what had caused the shift, I read this one all the way through. Blood pressure rising. Speaking aloud and progressively louder at the computer screen.

The message was full of inaccuracies. It contained ideas presented as facts that I knew were wrong, because my professional life now has me immersed in fact-finding resources about just about anything, so if I don't know something off the top of my head (which is most things, trust me) I know where to find them out.

What to do? To engage or not to engage? It didn't take long to conclude that I could only go halfway, enough to acknowledge, state a tiny percentage of my truth of the matter and move on.

This election has gone on for so long. I had a conversation this weekend with a friend who also covers the news, and we realized that we were covering primary debates when we first started our graduate programs, and we'll graduate in less than three months.Barack Obama said in some speech somewhere in the past month or so (see, this is how much I'm capable of retaining at this point) that babies not yet born when this all kicked off were walking now, and that alone made me want to lie down on the floor.

"I"m tired," my friend said. And this is a serious political junkie.

I love my family members without respect to political views which is a good thing because I disagree with more of them than I agree with, it seems. My father and I go back and forth all the time on issues, and since the Clinton loss he's moved from sending me snarky forwards about that to stuff from a friend of his - a man of the same age - who he's reconnected with and who appears to be helping him see that it's not all 30-something women who feel the way I do about certain issues. I walked into the computer room last week to find him writing a long e-mail about the election to his own first cousin. I have no idea what it said and that's okay, but the point is, the dialogue is normal in my family, across generations.

I just can't handle it when it gets unpleasant. I think it's important that we know and hear what others think, especially the people closest to us. I genuinely want to know why people feel the way they do, why they think one individual over the other will improve our country and ostensibly our lives, especially when it's a person I look at and want to run the other way.

So I took a deep breath and hit "reply." I wrote to my cousin and told her that I didnt have the energy or the time left for a debate, more distinctly this time because of the work I'm doing that requires me to stick to hte surface, pretty much, in a situation as I am that doesn't really allow for the full disclosure of my every (constant, deeply-felt) feeling about what I'm seeing unfold before me. I also told her that I disagreed with what she had sent and in fact could show her to some very reliable resources that showed what she had sent along to be untrue (and really, this one wasn't subjective: this involved actual numbers that have been published many times over and officially vetted.) I also told her that I loved her, and that I'd love it if she'd send me photos of the kids, but I didn't want any more political forwards from her. (To be fair, I don't send them out either.)

It was hard to do. It's a lot easier to let things slide, hit delete, or, conversely, to get fired up and engage. But I learned in 2004 that there was no value in that, at least in the context of my family members. I firmly believe that there is a lot at stake in this election, but I've seen too many conversations go downhill, too many relationships affected by hot-button issues that will never see agreement. I don't see us changing each others' minds, so the only thing I want is mutual respect. I think that's best achieved with thoughtful personal discussion and compromise, and in that case the inbox influx just doesn't work for me.

She wrote back, and said she understood. She knows how I feel, I know how she feels, even though for the life of me I don't understand how we can have such different perspectives. It's just the way it is, though. So I can only hope that the fundamental bond that we've built up for other reasons and in other ways over almost 40 years will carry the relationship through this process just like it has before. And I have some pretty cute pictures of her kids to show for it, too.

I just can't help wishing she didn't live in a battleground state.

Seaspray is cutting down on the family political discussions to keep the peace.

It also intrigues me how people can be so divided on issues, with each
side completely...adamantly believing their political persuasion is the correct one and perceive others as selfish or unenlightened
for disagreeing. And with each side worried about the fate of their
beloved country if the wrong party gets elected in... it can be down
right painful and fill one with such angst. I have decided that I will
not again get into a political discussion with certain family members
because it gets too heated and I love them more than my need for a
political discussion. So I will occasionally blog about it...if not
here... then in other blogs.

Kristy at This is the Day thinks disagreement is fine - as long as it's civil.

I am ALL for political disagreement. I have enjoyed politics for as
long as I can remember, and I like nothing more than to have a
friendly, political debate with someone. I have learned a lot from
people with viewpoints that differ from my own, and even when I have
disagreed with someone on their personal beliefs, I have tried to be
attentive and respectful. We all come from different backgrounds, we
have different stories that have shaped and formed our beliefs along
the way, and although I passionately disagree with many of the
"Republican" idealogies, I can still respect the individual.

Lauren of Faux Real Tho is writing at Feministe again, this time about split-ticket families.Her mom wrote in as a Democrat married to a Republican, and their daughter had this response:

Thanks, ma! And she’s right — we do have to brace ourselves before
any political discussions in the family because they get nasty fast. No
politics on family holidays unless you’re willing to knowingly divide
yourself from the offensive other for the duration of turkey-cutting
and present-unwrapping and Scrabble-playing.

I do, however, have an issue with the terminology of “canceling out” your partner’s or other people’s votes. Every vote counts in your district, so go ahead and vote your conscience. And hell, if it rubs, take some pride in canceling out your partner’s ignorant-ass vote.

(Here's a follow-up post from reader Jade about her own family's "vote cancelling" issue.)

Guest poster Reb at Dreaming of Mosiach wants families to refrain from political debate during Rosh Hashanah celebrations.

Proper Paige at Simple Etiquette only likes talking politics with people of like minds - family, friends or otherwise - and contends that this business of popping up with political observations out of the blue isn't always okay.

Rain at Rainy Day Thoughts approaches political discussions with her adult children like she experienced them growing up - openly.

Melissa at QueenMabContemplates... started an e-mail listserv to keep her family talking about politics and other important topics, what she calls "a doozy of a place for the Democrats and Republicans in our family to converge."

What follows is my attempt at sharing some of this electronic
discourse. Here we are in the midst of another presidential election,
where this is a collective and unified desire to see change in the
United States. And here we have one family, not unlike millions of
other families, who are trying to find their way and individually and
communally discern how to cast their votes. I offer excerpts of this
"blog" in upcoming posts, to inspire your own political discourse and
possible family and friend musings.

to dialogue and democracy, to family, friends, and the evolving way we
communicate and see our desired homes and country's leadership into


Laurie White writes very little about politics at the moment at LaurieWrites.



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