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7 Ways To Avoid Political Arguments With Family And Friends

“There can be no greater judgement on a country than a hideous spirit of division which divides a government into two different peoples, and makes them more alien and more hostile to each other, than if they were in fact two different nations. ”

So wrote the English essayist and playwright Joseph Addison in 1711 about the hyper-partisanship that led to the English Civil Wars of the 17th century. Almost 100 years later, George Washington warned of the dangers of political parties in his 1796 farewell address. Despite these warnings, America still grapples with partisan politics, now more than ever. .

Political party affiliation has become the measure we use most often to distinguish between friend and foe, more determinant than race, religion or relationship. Politics draw lines between us, creating tribes surrounded by pits of mistrust. As a result, family reunions have become battlegrounds where each side is determined not to take prisoners.

The first step in defusing political conflicts between family and friends is to understand the causes of extreme partisanship. Here’s a more in-depth look at why people hold onto their beliefs so fiercely, followed by seven ways to ease tensions when the topic of politics comes up in your social gatherings.

The origins of hyper-partisanship

A “supporter” is a member of a group who shares similar interests and goals. Political parties and partisanship have been around since the ancient Greeks and arise when people disagree with the actions (or non-actions) of a government. Driven by different visions of the future, partisanship is a natural result of democratic government.

In the United States, political parties started out as large umbrellas under which members had similar, but not identical, interests and views on most issues. Tolerating these differences was necessary to build political strength and win early elections, but in the two decades following World War II, both parties developed conservative and liberal wings. The battles between the parties on the platforms were intense and ended in compromised positions that few liked but most accepted. As a result, the final platforms of the two parties often looked alike and left voters with the feeling that there was “not the worst penny difference between the two,” as the famous candidate put it. George C. Wallace, representing the American Independent Party. he said during the 1968 presidential race.

Divisions within parties have also diminished the power of party leaders to force non-conformist leaders to stick to the party line. The legislation, the result of the creation of ad hoc coalitions of officials, was rarely extreme and reflected the compromises necessary for its passage.

However, as each party refined its positions on the issues of the day, the leaders began to impose orthodoxy among their members. Those who disagreed then abandoned their party, leaving behind smaller cores of passionate conservatives and liberal fanatics.

During the same period, single stake voters merged into blocs with the ability to tip the election in their favor. According to Gallup, one in six registered voters elects a candidate solely because of their stance on abortion. A quarter of Americans vote only for a candidate who shares his or her opinion on gun control. Attracting these voters, or being able to deny their influence, is essential to a successful election.

These fanatics, or hyper-partisans, from each party provide the energy and funds needed between election cycles. His ardour and his desire to win at all costs intensifies the conflicts between the parties. At the same time, voter interest increases as the partisan divide deepens and the contrast between options becomes more distinctive.

Hyper-partisanship always lurks under the guise of patriotism, and supporters of each party claim that those on the other side are not real Americans, but traitors. Vicious personal attacks are on the rise as opponents resort to slurs, hyperbole and lies to qualify candidates on the opposite side. During these times of excessive emotion and mistrust, governing becomes almost impossible.

Fear fuels the hyper-partisanship

Strong political sentiments invariably arise during times of economic stress and social unrest. Fears for the future increase the risks of political discussion. Income stagnation, growing wealth inequality, terrorism and globalism increase anxiety and anger as voters feel that party elites and wealthy interests control the levers of power.

The choice of which party to support has become a defensive question, more focused on keeping the opposition party in power than on favouring its own candidates. A 2016 Pew poll found that two-thirds of voters choose a political party to avoid the prejudice that could result if the other party were elected. In other words, people are now more likely to vote against a candidate than for. Other findings of the investigation include:

  • About a third of voters think members of the opposing party are not smart.
  • Republicans tend to view Democrats as lazy and immoral, while Democrats see Republicans as narrow-minded.
  • Republicans tend to view Democrats as “ungodly,” while Democrats view Republicans as “gun maniacs.”
  • Half of the voters on each side say their opponents are dishonest.

CNN called the 2016 presidential election “the most gruelling and emotional campaign in decades,” as two of history’s most polarised candidates faced off in a no-limit, no-limit contest. Republican candidate Donald Trump called Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton “Lying Hillary” and said her election would lead to “the end of America”. Responding in the same way, Clinton claimed that Trump was thin and inexperienced and that his ideas were “a series of weird gossip, personal bickering and outright lies.”

Hyper-partisan and hyperbole go hand in hand in times of stress. Fear is the oldest and most active of human emotions. It is activated whenever a person feels that their survival is in danger in an unknown and dangerous world. Whenever you have political conflicts with your family or friends, remember that each party has taken a position that they believe will save themselves, their families and their friends from disaster.

Our brain and our hyper-partisanship

According to scientists, our brains are continually looking for mental shortcuts to save energy and work more efficiently. This trend underlies the effectiveness of labelling or branding. We use labels as a method to understand the world around us and to convey information from one person to another. However, these labels are generally based on broad stereotypes; Being described as a Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal rarely communicates the nuances of a person’s political beliefs.

For example, someone can support both gun control and pro-life policies; Does that mean they fit the label of “Republican” or “Democrat”? Due to the labelling, very little is known about the actual values ​​of the person thus described. However, labels immediately distinguish people and inhibit the possibility of reaching an agreement.

Political hostility between conservatives and liberals could also be due to a difference in the structure of the brain and the way humans process information, according to Seeker. Studies published in Scientific American have found that conservatives are inherently more anxious than liberals, better able to assess potential threats and seek stability and order. In a 2016 Salon interview, psychiatrist Gail Saltz said that there are measurable differences in people’s brains that could explain the difference in information processing of the two groups:

  • Preservatives have a larger right amygdala, the area of ​​the brain that processes emotional information. As a result, they are more likely to dislike change, seek stability and loyalty, and be more traditionally religious.
  • Liberals have a larger anterior cingulate gyrus, the area of ​​the brain responsible for receiving and processing new information. They tend to tolerate uncertainty and conflict, enjoy change, and base their decisions on rationality.

Scientists point out that the human brain is “plastic” and capable of changing over time. They also point out that there are substantial variations within each category. In other words, although two people declare themselves to be conservative or liberal, their positions on the same issues can be very different. Likewise, although two people identify with different political parties, they may have more in common than they initially thought.

The hyper-partisanship in the 21st century

Political parties understand that stoking the fears of the electorate encourages partisanship, increases party coffers and motivates volunteers. The 21st century has been particularly vulnerable to sponsors of partisan propaganda due to:

  • Gerrymandering. State legislatures redraw congressional district boundaries every ten years. The ruling party naturally seeks to establish constituencies configured to capture the majority of its party’s voters. Many regions are separated for racial and economic demographic reasons. This, combined with the power of modern technology to identify and locate favourable voters, has produced a large number of oddly configured but unopposed constituencies in every state. The lack of political competition in constituencies controlled by manipulation leads to hardened voting positions and a reluctance to compromise.
  • Campaign duration. While not the longest, the United States’ campaign and electoral cycle ranks among the first of any democratic country in the world in terms of length. Hillary Clinton declared her candidacy for the 2008 presidential election in January 2007, 654 days before the election. The prolonged duration of the elections multiplies the cost of the campaigns and tires out the voters, who begin to “disconnect” and to listen only to the information which confirms their convictions.
  • Campaign expenses. The cost of the upcoming presidential elections is expected to reach $ 8-10 billion, the financing of which is only possible thanks to the efficiency of the Internet. Barack Obama revolutionised campaign finance by reaching millions of small contributors via the Internet during his presidential candidacies. While individual donors and Political Action Committees (PACs) remain important, small online donors provide historic levels of money to campaign managers, who can then saturate public streets with their messages.
  • Investigation of the opposition. Negative campaigns have been successful since the birth of politics. Modern technology, such as electronic documentation and the Internet, allows investigators to expose the most private details of the lives of candidates, as well as their families, friends and supporters. Campaign managers manipulate and disclose this information to cause the greatest public harm to their opponents.
  • 24/7 news cycles. The proliferation and balkanization of information providers creates a voracious demand for content and user reviews. Potential candidates are hunted down around the clock by dozens of journalists and photographers eager to pounce on every blunder, mistake and unattractive element of their thematic positions, supporters and appearance. Social media instantly spreads all the bugs around the world.
  • Social media. Websites like Facebook and Twitter attract millions of users, many of whom turn to social media rather than traditional news sources for information. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds (67%) of Americans say they get some or most of their information from social media. Unfortunately, the great sharing capacity and lack of data verification inherent in social media allow the spread of rumours and misinformation at an unprecedented rate. According to the indictment of a special federal prosecutor, Russian agents used social media from 2014 to 2017 to manipulate public opinion on US policy and presidential candidates.
  • Disinformation and fake news. Hungry for market share and revenue, media companies and website sponsors often fail to verify content validity or the authority of a source before posting information. This lack of editorial control encourages the publication of false information designed only to create confusion and division.

We live in a world where the “facts” can be difficult to prove. Data appears and disappears in milliseconds, replaced with new info

Political differences and family conflicts

Strong political views can threaten family relationships and friendships. Parent-child tensions are particularly difficult, as parents often expect their children to embrace their party’s values ​​and affiliations.

The first studies seem to confirm these expectations. In 1961, the experiments of psychologist Albert Bandura concluded that children model behaviour learned from their parents. A 2005 Gallup poll suggested that 70% of teens share the same social and political ideologies as their parents. However, subsequent studies have found that parental beliefs have little or no effect on children’s political views as they age and become adults. The American Sociological Association found in 2015 that more than half of children rejected their parents’ political parties as they became more aware of politics.

This rejection rate is even higher when parents actively seek to assert their political views on their children. According to a 2013 Cambridge University study, “Children who come from homes where politics are a frequent topic of discussion are more likely to talk about politics once they leave home, exposing them to new issues. view, which they later adopted with surprising frequency. ”

Political issues often trigger emotional reactions, especially if there are other issues in the relations between the parties. In these situations, instead of seeing a difference of opinion as an opportunity for mutual exploration, the parties interpret the difference as rejection, disrespect or an attempt at control. Disagreement escalates into arguments and even estrangement if not handled properly.

How to defuse political hostility between family and friends

Many psychologists claim that avoiding difficult conversations with loved ones often leads to isolation and alienation. A better approach is to learn to disagree without animosity and to recognise the validity of other people’s feelings without agreeing with their positions. Taking the following steps can lower blood pressure, minimise personal attacks, and promote mutual respect.

1. Recognise the importance of your relationships

Humans often go to great lengths to protect their physical and financial assets while ignoring their most valuable asset: family and friends. Close relationships are essential for lifelong health and happiness, according to a 2017 study from Michigan State University. As researcher William Chopik notes: “The more positive the interactions [with loved ones], the better. The important thing is to have people you can trust, in good times and in bad times. ”

Maintaining strong relationships requires accepting the differences and shortcomings of those we love, as well as expecting them to have a similar tolerance for our whims.

2. Recognise that we all experience the world differently

Before demonising those who disagree with you politically, consider that they are influenced by factors beyond their control, like you. Although humans are physically and psychologically similar, they are not the same. As a result, each of us lives and reacts to our environment in a unique way. Understanding the basis of someone else’s opinions is the first step towards reconciliation.

3. Have realistic expectations for family relationships.

Few people have families like the imaginary families in fiction and television. Fathers don’t always know what’s best, mothers tire and tire, and children are selfish kids more often than polite angels. And as Pamela Regan, a psychologist at California State University, told Popular Science : “Because conflict is a normal part of relationships, the closer you are and the more you reveal yourself, the more you hear things you don’t. you like “.

As family members grow, move and create new family groups, the relationships between them become more uncertain. They experience new environments and new opinions that change the way they see the world. Unfortunately, when they come together, they often slip into old roles, behaviours, and expectations of others that no longer apply.

But the differences don’t have to drive the distance. Accepting our family members for who they are, rather than for who we want them to be, will build trust and respect while minimising conflict.

4. Do not fight in battles that you can avoid or that you cannot win.

There will be times when you don’t have the patience or the energy to tolerate degrading and aggressive behaviour, regardless of your relationship with the bully. At these times, your best approach is to get away from the situation as quickly as possible.

As Larry Sabato Jr. of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia said in an interview with USA Today, “No one will change their mind because of a discussion at the table.” Psychologists have long recognised that it is almost impossible to change someone else’s political beliefs because they are only shrouded in our identities. Neurological studies indicate that we view ideological challenges as personal insults, stimulating our brains to react as if these challenges are an assault on our body.

If possible, avoid political discussions that can lead to arguments and hurt feelings. If a controversial political issue arises, try to redirect the conversation. If you fail, tell others that you are uncomfortable talking about it and ask them to change the subject. Don’t feel pressured to justify your feelings. If you are in a hurry, ask the interlocutor, “Why are you so determined to talk politics?” Or “Why are you worried about getting my consent?” If all else fails, it’s perfectly okay for you to apologise to avoid further conflict.

5. Avoid labels and false assumptions

If you participate in political discussions, don’t assume that those who disagree with you have questionable motives, lack the intelligence to understand the situation, or underestimate the impact of their positions. In other words, don’t buy into the stereotypes and prejudices promoted by our political parties.

At the same time, recognise that those with whom you disagree are likely to label you with an unfavourable stereotype. To them, you may seem just as stubborn, callous, and unwilling to consider information that conflicts with their conclusions. Mistrust breeds mistrust and anger responds to anger, fraying and even the severing of family ties. No one likes to be reduced to a stereotype, and this always causes friction and misunderstanding.

Everyone develops mental shortcuts to process information quickly and make sense of the world around them. These shortcuts, or “patterns”, in psychological terms, flow from our experiences and produce negative and positive stereotypes and prejudices. Be aware of your personal biases and how they can affect your feelings and opinions.

6. Establish ground rules for discussion

Everyone knows someone who sees the conversation as an opportunity to demonstrate their superiority to their listeners. They are fluent, interrupt others, and like to be the center of attention. Many selfish people bring up controversial topics, especially politics, during a conversation to provoke disagreements and intimidate others into taking a stand. Allowing a hyper-partisan to dominate a conversation always ends badly.

The purpose of a discussion is to promote the exchange of information, not to change your mind. Instead of questioning someone’s political beliefs, explore the reasons for their position. Recognise your feelings and your right to an opinion, even when you disagree. When explaining your perspective on issues, do so as objectively as possible without apologising or justifying your feelings. When someone prompts you or tries to put you down, dismiss their efforts in non-aggressive but clear terms.

7. Examine your role in disagreements

A discussion is a chain of actions and reactions, each of which links a response to facial expressions, body language, gestures and words immediately preceding. In other words, our breast invariably becomes its tattoo, and vice versa. Once launched, insults and personal attacks are like a series of cheap firecrackers – lots of noise and explosions, with nothing but a pile of ash.

Refuse to light the fuse by accepting statements and people without prejudice. Ignore provocations and respond emotionally to anger while still showing respect for the other person. Some experts suggest lowering your voice and slowing down your speech to calm emotions and regain civility.

Never intentionally provoke someone, no matter how upset you might be. Aggression towards family and friends is inappropriate and only increases conflict. If you inadvertently embarrass or insult someone, apologise and rephrase your comment in less critical terms.

Relationship experts recommend that a better approach to provocation is to refuse to compromise at all and distance yourself from an attack by “depersonalising” it. Take a detached perspective, remove yourself emotionally from the conflict, and see him as an inward-looking stranger rather than a participant. Implementing this strategy will help you keep your cool and your perspective.

Last word

No matter how hard you try to avoid political conflicts with your friends and family, you will likely find yourself from time to time in embarrassing situations that are inevitable and unavoidable. Some personality types like to fight, bustle about the most trivial things just to cause conflict, while others argue out of habit. Hyper-partisans, especially when they are loved ones, are difficult to deal with because they sincerely believe that their efforts will prevent calamities and catastrophes for those close to them.

If you are in a position where withdrawal is impossible, remember that you alone are in control of your emotions and actions. You have a variety of reactions to hateful or aggressive speakers. If you choose to respond in the same way, the conflict will escalate, perhaps to levels where reconciliation is unimaginable. Remembering the tips above and putting them into practice will help you disagree, in a respectful and loving way, with others.

Do your friends and family agree politically? Do family reunions turn into political battles? How do you deal with it?

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