Vulakh’s View: Let’s Discuss, Peacefully

Gabriella Vulakh, Editor-in-Chief

Family gatherings always include delicious foods, catching up with relatives and the part I dread most: enduring tense political conversations at the dinner table. 

During family meals, my conservative grandfather loves to share his opinions about the impeachment, Fox News and the president. Within minutes everyone at the table is screaming back and forth while I try to eat my food and excuse myself as fast as possible. 

When I used to try sharing my own opinions, they simply got lost in the yelling. The discussions are hopeless and no one bothers listening or having a calm, diplomatic conversation.

In preparation for the holiday season, “The New York Times” published Angry Uncle Bot, a virtual robot, which simulates political discussions with both a conservative and liberal bot, allowing individuals to practice having political conversations through the form of pre-written text messages.

After the user selects a text-message, a note from either Dr. Karin Tamerius, founder and managing director of Smart Politics, or David Campt, a conflict resolution specialist, pops up with advice about whether the individual was neutral or provoked more anger. 

Political diversity is a challenging obstacle that many families experience, with 39% of respondents reporting they see political diversity within their families, according to a Public Religion Research Institute/The Atlantic survey. 

American politics have become so polarized that for some individuals it has replaced religion, race or even social class when choosing a spouse and forming a family.

For some parents, politics is such a sensitive area that they do not want their children marrying individuals from opposing political parties. Thirty-five percent of Republicans and 45% of Democrats said they would be unhappy if their children married an individual from the opposite political party, according to the PRRI/The Atlantic survey. 

While many people choose to avoid having tense political conversations at all costs, especially during the holiday season, these discussions do not have to end in arguments or strained family dynamics.

Tamerius and Campt recommend asking open ended and non-threatening questions, listening to responses, agreeing when possible, responding in a way that shows an understanding of the other person’s perspective and ending with an anecdote that brings in their own perspective.

Instead of yelling across the dinner table, which can make the other person angry and defensive about their opinion, the team recommends taking time to really listen to what the opposing side has to say. 

Political discussions are an opportunity for families to broaden their perspectives and have peaceful, thought-provoking conversations. Afterall, family meals are a time for families to come together, not grow farther apart.