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Connect With Your Family Across the Table—and the Political Divide

Is it possible to gracefully navigate the potential minefield of political discussions at family gatherings? Suspending judgment, looking for common ground, and speaking from the heart can help. After all, these are people you love.
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Hugging Fingers photo by Pranav Prakash

Last year LivingRoomConversations.org was launched with the goal of "revitalizing the art of conversation among people with diverse views and to remind our fellow Americans of the power and beauty of civil discourse." Living Room Conversations have been co-hosted by conservative/progressive host teams on energy, money in politics, the role of government, immigration, and gay marriage.

Remember that you aren't likely to change someone's mind but you just might open them up to seeing another point of view or have the pleasure of gaining a broader perspective for yourself.

The early responses to the conversations have been encouraging and even inspiring. "Participating in the Living Room Conversation brought me back my boyhood when my family sat around the dinner table debating the topics of the day from both liberal and conservative perspectives. The Conversation captured what I find to be missing from modern media and modern political narratives: a sense that what we share as Americans is far deeper and more important than what divides us, a sense that we still have a chance to reach across partisan divides to identify both the core of our disagreements and the kernel of realistic compromises."

This year the media is asking us "How do families deal with their political differences over holiday dinners?"

My first response is: A family dinner party may not be the best place for a challenging conversation. Also, the simple guidelines for Living Room Conversations may not be sufficient for families. Many families have histories that are challenging. We all know family members that presume permission to break certain social restraints and social restraint is a core part of what Living Room Conversations rely on to ensure respectful engagement. Family members are the people you can "let your hair down" with, right?

Why not just look for common ground? Listening, caring, and healing the divisions in our communities and families is a worthy goal.

That said, respectful listening, curiosity, suspending judgment, looking for common ground, speaking from the heart, and the willingness to honor our right to hold different opinions are excellent practices for family conversations, too. Most important of all is remembering these are people you love. One man whose father and wife have strong opposing political views told me they that the what makes their discussions work is they always know first and foremost that they love each other.

You know better than anyone who in your family might appreciate and be open to a meaningful conversation that includes politics. Why not just look for common ground? The media spend more than enough time on our differences.

And don't forget, post election there are many people who care deeply about our country grieving and worrying about what the future holds. Listening, caring, and healing the divisions in our communities and families is a worthy goal. If you do decide to engage in a substantial conversation—or are roped in—remember that you aren't likely to change someone's mind, but you just might open them up to seeing another point of view, have the pleasure of gaining a broader perspective for yourself, and reaffirm the understanding that our core values are much more aligned than the media leaves us believing. And don't forget the love.


Joan Blades is the co-founder of Living Room Conversations, MoveOn.org, and MomsRising. She blogs at Huffington Post, where this article originally appeared.

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