Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsFamilies

How to Keep the Holiday Peace Amid Political Fervor

Cool heads should prevail when family and friends have vastly different views about the election.

November 17, 2000|KATHLEEN MEGAN | HARTFORD COURANT

So you adopt your best measured tone as you explain to your Uncle Joe why you think Bush's opposition to hand-counting votes is two-faced and why there should be a new vote in Florida, and your uncle hauls up and tells you, "You don't know what you're talking about, and you never have!"

And in no time your faces are a deeper shade than cranberry sauce, and your emotional radar system is signaling an early warning about a drumstick that may soon be winging its way across the table.

That's no way to have a holiday dinner, but with the contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush still up for grabs and Thanksgiving bearing down on us, there is reason to worry about the tenor of our turkey day.

So what do you do when the topic comes up--whether at home or in the workplace? Do you follow the advice of the sages who tell you to avoid all conversation about politics and religion? Or do you venture into discussion, hoping for a like-minded conversational partner or at least a conversation not punctuated by flying objects?

Sybil Evans, author of "Hot Buttons: How to Resolve Conflict and Cool Everyone Down" (Cliff Street Books, $23) and a self-described "conflict coach," said she believes the scene in Florida is growing more rancorous every day. "One side raises the bar, and the other side raises the bar," she said. "There's some name-calling going on. Bush being called smug. Gore being called a sore loser. The process being called a joke. Gore being called a hijacker.

"That's what I call 'zinger escalation.' "

And it's just such zingers--if you bring them into your daily conversation--that can turn a reasoned discussion into a conflagration.

Another tactic that gets people into trouble, Evans said, is to "demonize the opposition. That's when you decide the other person is a bad, bad person with bad intentions."

An example of this, she said, was the cynical reaction of critics to the post-Election Day photos of Gore playing touch football. They accused him, she said, of trying to be like the Kennedys.

Evans said decisions can be made--within families or workplaces or between particular workers--simply not to talk about politics, if it breeds too much discord.

But she said she believes people with differences should learn to communicate civilly. "If you're a Republican, and I'm a Democrat, I should be able to say to you: I understand how you feel. I can understand why you're frustrated with this situation. The minute you see some merit to the other's arguments, you can have a reasoned discussion."

If it should happen that you can see your discussion partner is bearing down, unable to take that so-called high road, it may be best to bow out quickly.

Jack Thaw, a Glastonbury, Conn., psychologist who does work in anger management and consults with the U.S. Postal Service, said anger is seldom about the matter at hand. If someone explodes during a political argument, you are likely to find that underlying that anger is discomfort, fear, frustration or hurt about other topics.

"Anger provides a quick kick of power" for someone who is feeling powerless, Thaw said.

In a family, the side issues can be particularly thorny if there are decades of history and different boundaries, Thaw said.

When he discusses politics with his college-age son, Thaw said, they both try to enjoy the discussion without having a stake in winning the argument.

If you do find your conversational partner beginning to boil, Thaw said, "My suggestion is disconnect. You can support a person without agreeing with them: 'Well, this is certainly an interesting discussion. I respect your point of view. You're entitled to it. I feel differently. Thank you,' and disconnect."

Many people will be navigating the tricky shoals of having a holiday table of mixed political persuasion.

Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz is one of them. Bysiewicz grew up in a family of strictly Democrats, but her sister, Gail, married Ross Garber, a longtime Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate this year.

"Ross was involved in politics--even in high school," Bysiewicz said. "He was president of the Young Republicans."

But Bysiewicz said the addition of a Republican to her family has made for lively discussion, without vitriol.

"We have different philosophies, different points of view," Bysiewicz said, "but we are still a family. Politics is a family vocation. We take it with a grain of salt."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|