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How to mix politics with your pie this holiday: 4 tips for respectful conversation

Dec 22, 2022 by Casey Mattox

‘Tis the season: The one where everyone seems to want to give you advice on how to win arguments while spending the holidays with family members with different political views.

Yes, Americans feel more polarized right now than any other time in recent history. But the truth is that Americans are less divided than we think: 86 percent of Americans comprise the “Exhausted Majority” and are tired of the toxic polarization.

Since you’re reading this, I’m guessing you feel the same way.

You know that Americans have real disagreements, but you also know that we have more in common than what divides us. And you’re more than ready to move past all the anger and actually discuss real issues productively.

Americans – family members, neighbors, coworkers – aren’t going to agree on every single issue. And that’s okay. America thrives because of our differences, not in spite of them. We can come from different backgrounds and beliefs and still find common ground – such as our pride in being a part of the great American experiment; our belief in liberty and justice for all; and our gratitude for the opportunity and promise that our country holds.

The path forward isn’t to not debate. It’s to learn how to debate better. Instead of preparing what to say to just “own the libs” or “put your MAGA uncle in his place,” what about if we try to listen to each other, understand others’ points of view, and discover areas where we can collaborate – or even persuade each other?

Let’s use this holiday season to talk with each other, not at each other. Rather than going to your in-laws ready for a fight, get ready to connect. Here are a few suggestions on how to do that:

  1. Share stories. Before you get to the stats, start with stories. Research reveals that personal experiences bridge moral and political divides better than facts. Which makes sense sense – stories are one of the oldest tools for finding human connection. If I’m at a dinner table and not on a debate stage, I know I’d rather listen to someone share their personal experiences and stories with me than listen to them list off facts at me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
  2. Listen. Too often, most of us participating in a conversation are only waiting for our turn to speak, and so we don’t pay enough attention to what others are actually saying. The purpose of a conversation should be to listen to each other in order to understand, not to simply kill time before we can insert ourselves into the conversation.
  3. Roll up your sleeves. Collaborating to create something together or to serve your community has numerous beneficial outcomes; it helps to break through stereotypes, build trust, and deepen empathy. And these are people you already share something in common with. Doing something together can help you rediscover that and remember that you aren’t just two people with political differences. Fortunately, the holiday season is a perfect time to work together, whether that’s a gingerbread house or a meal for your loved ones or serving those in need.

I hope these help you find more joy this holiday season and less contention. The First Amendment itself doesn’t create a culture that values free speech. It can safeguard our rights, but it’s up to us to use the tools to engage in civil debate across any lines of difference – whether that’s at the holiday dinner, in the workplace, or in civic life.

One last note. I traveled recently and saw this solid display on students’ First Amendment rights at Dulles airport in Terminal B. I am grateful for the opportunity to play a small role in a few of those cases. It gives me hope for the future of free speech to remember the young adults who defended the First Amendment and the impact they have had.

Warmest wishes to you and yours for a joyous holiday season and a happy New Year!

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