Mixing Family and Politics: A Survival Guide

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In just about a month, my family will convene in North Carolina to celebrate a wedding. Among my four siblings, various spouses, our offspring, and their partners and significant others, there will be 23 in our immediate MacEachern circle.

Several of us are very conservative Republicans. Several are very liberal Democrats. A few in our crowd fall somewhere in the middle — socially liberal but fiscally conservative, or the opposite. Everyone is of voting age — but a couple don’t plan to vote because they feel “it doesn’t do any good.”

Already in our family’s private Facebook group, comments about the election are flying back and forth. One of the aunts has jokingly promised to wear a Hillary t-shirt to the rehearsal dinner. One of the nephews has offered to lend her his Trump Make America Great Again! hat. A niece has said she plans to duck and cover — or maybe just spend most of her time out of earshot at the bar.

I find myself mentally practicing being polite. Patient. Trying to listen to others’ points of view without immediately dismissing them as ignorant. But I can also see myself screeching “You CAN’T be serious!!” when one of my relatives defends his or her support for a candidate I think is absolutely horrible. If it gets to that point, my daughter will try to defuse the situation. “Mom! Calm down!! Anyone want a cookie?”

While Barack Obama’s first term was all about hope, he’s leaving office amid the pallor of fear — fear of terrorists, fear of the economy, fear of people who may be American but just don’t look like us, even fear of an insidious virus being spread by a tiny but vile mosquito. Those fears seem to be bringing out the worst in people. I don’t want them to bring out the worst in me.

But that’s hard.

It upsets me to be confronted with how clearly the people I love most in the world don’t share my values. I find myself thinking, “Man, if they can support THAT candidate, what other whacky things do they support?”

Facebook makes it worse. I can turn off the news, sign-up for emails from supportive list-servs, and choose to get information from sources that stoke my own beliefs while drowning out contrary opinions.

But if I go on Facebook, I will inevitably encounter a bevy of posts, not just from my family, but from pals, acquaintances, and so-called “friends” who are in my sphere because I simply clicked when I got their request, who strongly disagree with my perspective on who to vote for in 2016.

Intellectually, I know it is essential to find a way to co-exist with people whose opinions I don’t share, even though my worries about about how much is on the line keep me up at night.

Emotionally, it is almost impossible not to roll my eyes, heave a very audible sign of frustration, and dismiss someone because “they just don’t know any better.”

I understand that, practically speaking, I may have to simply shrug my shoulders when it comes to my immediate family and politics — just as they, no doubt, are dealing with me. In this earlier article I wrote, researchers found that people are far more likely to be politically compatible with their neighbors than their brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and even parents.

Still, the bottom line for me is that, as passionately as I feel about “my” candidate, I love my family, and my family loves me. At the end of the day, my siblings and offspring are going to be more important to me personally than whoever becomes the next president of the United States.

Here’s how to stay true to your values and keep your familial relationships:

  1. Politically, I will tackle whatever I can to help “my” candidate succeed. I’m donating money, volunteering at phone banks, knocking on doors, and yes, using Facebook to share information that I hope will help sway my online community when they go to the polls.
  2. I’m also going to make a concerted effort to understand where people — especially those in the MacEachern clan — are coming from. Why are they afraid? What do they think really needs to happen to make America better? How are they getting information to help them make informed decisions? What is going on in their own lives that is influencing the vote they’ll cast in their primary, or in November?

The more I understand what is at the root of their concerns, and the more I share what is at the root of mine, the greater are the chances we’ll find common ground. Even if we can agree to disagree, we’ll still be talking. And that’s better than shouting, stonewalling, or dismissing each other outright.

Of course, at some point, all of us may have to recite Reinhold Nieburhr’s “Serenity Prayer” — “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

So, while we certainly will talk politics at the wedding, I am going to try to keep it to a minimum.

At least until the bride makes it down the aisle.


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