Politics has always been somewhat taboo in society. While we discuss the pros and cons of different laws and events, no one ever stated how they voted, at least until the events of the past few years occurred.
Since different Prime Ministers and Presidents have been inaugurated, it has become increasingly clear that society is more divided than ever. Hot topics such as same sex marriage, women’s rights, border control, gun control and health care have risen to such prominence that relationships are breaking because we hold different values and adamantly fight for them.
It’s not bad to disagree with people, or to speak up for what be believe in (that’s the basis of a democratic society after all), but when these issues start to break families, romantic relationships, friendships and community groups, we need to address the rift they’re causing. Why? Because if we’re not careful, they’ll destroy the relationships we value most in life and cause us bitterness, anxiety and grief.
This is not a blog about changing your political values or even how you express them—rather, it’s about how to meet the people you love and value where they’re at, so you can learn from each other and find common ground.
It can all feel a bit overwhelming, so we’ve narrowed it down to five steps. This is how to find common ground in your relationships when you have different political values:
1. Figure out your common values
Any relationship is built on common values. Political differences may currently cause a rift in your relationship, but your commonalities can help you build a bridge to meet each other in the middle. Figure out what you both value and go from there: it could be family values, a healthy economy, faith, health care or justice.
Use this as a springboard to empathise with your loved one or colleague. When they say or do things you disagree with, remember the core values they hold and where these actions come from.
2. Create a safe place
To sustain your relationship, you need to create a safe place (either literally or metaphorically) where you can do life together without politics. This might sound impossible, especially when your political values are so personal, but it will enable your relationship to grow instead of die in bitterness and contempt.
Meet together for coffee, or play a team sport together. Do something you both enjoy, and make it a ‘politics free zone’. This doesn’t devalue your political stance or assume you defer to theirs, it just means you value the relationship above your need to win them over.
3. Be honest
If you have a problem with what your friend or colleague is saying, let them know, but keep is positive and avoid passive aggressive social media posts or gossip. Be aware that they may not understand your point of view, and come to peace with this. Respect their right to have a different opinion to your own.
Some people will be open to having discussions about political differences, and this can create a life-giving environment where you both learn and grow from each other. However, if discussion turns into an argument or slander, you need to exit. This is not deferring to their point of view, but valuing your time and dignity because you know the conversation is fruitless.
4. Avoid it
Let’s be clear, avoidance is rarely ever a healthy strategy, but occasionally it is needed after you have established a difference of opinion.
For instance, if a family dinner or holiday is coming around and you know a relative will be there who has some radical opinions, it’s probably best you don’t start a conversation about that week’s hot topic. Choose to keep the peace and retain the relationship over changing their mind.
Some people love to argue. They will provoke you and bait you with their words and snide remarks. Make a conscious decision not to enter their game. Change the topic and ask about the family or talk about something less contentious—like the weather.
5. Be wise
It is possible to have healthy, thriving relationships with people who have different political values from you, even in an intimate relationship. However, there comes a point for many of us where these differences show a dramatic division in our values that prohibit us from getting any closer.
It might be a deal breaker in a romantic relationship, or influence the decision to keep a friend as an acquaintance rather than a confidant.
This is okay. Allow the grief process to happen, and be wise about the boundaries you have around that relationship. The closer someone is to you, the more important it is they have similar values to you. And when you do disagree, remember to have grace—we are all just people after all.