Don’t let politics ruin your relationships
I’m not usually the kind of person who thinks there should be a law for everything, but I will confess: If we could at least all agree to never start a conversation with, “Did you hear what Donald Trump said/tweeted today?”, we would all be healthier people.
I recently read Jeanne Safer’s book, “I Love You, but I Hate Your Politics,” and now I feel like my conviction has official expert approval. She’s a psychotherapist in New York City, and the book is all about how politics ruins relationships. The book isn’t a mere chronicle of these tales of woe or livid anger. It’s a help. She wants, as the subtitle explains, to protect relationships in a “poisonous partisan world.”
Now, just because I don’t want to constantly talk and think about politics doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously — I’ve lamented the world not taking public policy seriously about since the time I could talk. My cries as an infant may have been about Senate committee hearings. But we need to take a few steps back and safeguard the most precious commodity of friendship.
Some of Safer’s advice compliments the 10 principles of civil communication I addressed in my book, “How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice” (OSV). In fact, the first is not to raise your voice. She explains: “Your opponent will interpret even a slight increase in volume as shouting. It’s a guaranteed way to escalate hostility and makes your opponent automatically shut down and stop listening.”
Other tips include how “Friends don’t let friends drink and discuss politics.” She points out that “it’s hard enough to react well in difficult conversations when you’re stone-cold sober, let alone when you’ve had a few drinks.”
Safer says to “never thrust an unsolicited partisan article or link from your side of a contentious issue on your mate, relative or friend.” The idea behind this is to “speak for yourself” instead of quoting an expert, which usually is off-putting to other people.
Also, don’t talk about things that you know won’t end well. Safer points out that “part of maturity is recognizing that there are some issues that cannot be discussed between you without misery ensuing.” And she adds a really important point: “You can still be true to your beliefs without foisting them on an unwilling audience.”
Another principle is to “start no political conversation with ‘How can your side possibly think …?'” Safer says to never read friends’ political posts on social media or engage in a political fight through any form of messaging. Please, can we “assume decency and goodwill … even if you passionately disagree.”
And how about realizing that we can’t change people, let alone their political beliefs? Your one next brilliant word isn’t likely to turn Saul into Paul. “It is this refusal to accept the limits of our influence over others that makes us feel helpless,” Safer writes. “The upside of acknowledging this fundamental law, in love and politics, is that once you give up trying to do the impossible, you automatically improve the quality of your dialogue and win the other person’s trust. It might even save your relationship.”
Your relationships and encounters with others are not about you. They are about the love of God made manifest in another. They are about serving him by loving.
God may use you as an instrument, but not if you’re pounding away at someone’s favorite politician or ridiculing (even if not intentionally) his point of view. There’s a lot of wisdom — and heart-wrenching stories that sound all too familiar — in Safer’s book. And as we go deeper into a presidential election cycle, you may not want to approach your phone or the proverbial watercooler or a meal with others without it.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.