This is an unabridged version of my column that will be published in the March/April issue of GRAND Magazine.
Prior to the presidential election I wrote two columns on how the presidential campaign was impacting family relationships: (1) “Grandparents’ Political Rants Are Upsetting;” (2) “Readers’ Responses to Grandparents’ Political Rants.”
Post-election, many readers who did not support Donald Trump (DT) have written to say that they are struggling to reconcile their feelings toward family members who did vote for DT. The feelings expressed seem to fall into two main categories. Some are genuinely perplexed and want answers to the questions they have, such as: How could you vote for DT, knowing what is known about his unseemly moral behavior, his lack of knowledge about our Constitution and current policies, and the people with whom he chooses to surround himself, many of whom appear to be inexperienced and/or unqualified and/or have potential conflicts of interest?
“Can we talk?”
To those in this group I encourage them to extend an invitation, that is, ask the Trump supporter if he/she would be comfortable exchanging views on why each of them made the voting-booth choices they made. The governing and agreed-upon ground rule for this discussion should be that if, at any point, either of them feels uncomfortable with the exchange, he/she can say so and not be challenged to continue the discussion until such time as both parties chose to resume it, if ever. In this scenario, mutual respect prevails and the relationship between the parties remains in tact.
However, I also heard from another group, best summarized by this reader’s comment: “…there is no chance I’d even speak to them [based on their support for Trump] if we weren’t related . . . for me the issue is: How to deal with stupid. There, I said it . . . It’s tricky, at least for me, because I have a tiny voice (well, roar) expressing a desire to penetrate their appallingly wrong-headed and stunningly simplistic views, and yet, can we even engage at the most basic level with those who hold such opposite and hateful views if they don’t have a shred of intellectual curiosity or humanity to even want to explore other opinions?”
“It’s best that we don’t talk”
My advice for those who share similar sentiments: do not attempt a dialogue. Rather, accept that they have made choices and no amount of discussion at this time could allay what you are feeling. Accept that your relationship going forward should be cordial and pleasant – you always want to be able to be together at family gatherings – but you get to choose your own relationship boundaries and how close and how intimately you want them to be in your life right now. I say “right now” because your feelings may change over time, or not.
There are times it’s okay to ignore the elephant in the room
The point is that not everything needs to be discussed and analyzed, especially when one’s respect for someone is diminished, or no longer exists. Some conversations need not, and should not, take place, especially when it involves family members.
For example, I know of one family where the elders decreed there would be no talk of politics at the holiday gatherings. As illustrated in an earlier column I wrote, “Dreading the Family Thanksgiving Dinner,” family members engaging in political discussions that predictably end up in rants and raves should not be allowed to ruin things for everyone else, especially when these emotional exchanges can frighten the children present.
Those who resent being told that they may not share their political views in certain settings and claim their first amendment rights (freedom of speech) are being violated, need to be reminded that they can always themselves host a family gathering and let everyone know in advance that political discussions will be taking place. Then, other family members can decide whether to attend knowing what to expect.
This helps ensure there is an atmosphere that makes it easier for family members to be pleasant and cordial with each other, regardless of their political differences.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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