For many college students, the Thanksgiving break is the first time during the school year that they return home to visit with family. Especially for first-year students, this return can highlight the changes they’ve gone through being away from home. Exposure to a new environment, different people, and new ideas can have a huge impact on our beliefs and world view. As much as we view Thanksgiving as a time for togetherness and gratitude, the holiday table is infamous for being the site of screaming matches and family feuds. In a perfect world it would be easy to check our politics at the door, declare a truce over turkey, and spend the day focusing on familial bonds. But the world isn’t perfect, and for some people, these discussions are simply unavoidable.
Part of the reason we become so passionate when discussing politics is because our political views are shaped by our values. However, we rarely address our values explicitly during these talks. Instead we end up talking past each other, getting hung up on semantics, debating over evidence, or framing things merely as “opinions”. Inevitably, one or more people feel like they’re not being heard, or like they’re being dismissed. Our frustration and hurt feelings make us lash out, and things escalate to an argument. If you’re concerned about how to approach these discussions, and how to avoid escalating the situation, identifying and articulating your values may be a helpful strategy.
First, identify your values. Think about what principals or qualities are important to you. How have they changed during your time away? What has stayed the same? There are no right or wrong answers here.
Second, explore the why behind your values. The why says a lot about how you view the world, and how you think the world should be. So, if community is one of your values that might be because you believe that people are stronger together than they are apart, and you might believe that people should live less individualistically and more communally. If some of your values have changed, what sparked that change?
Third, identify how your values inform your political views. Consider which candidates or policies you voted for in the mid-term; how did they align with your values? For example, did you vote for a candidate with a strong record on LGBTQ rights because equality and acceptance are part of your values?
Finally, think about how you can articulate your values explicitly in your next political discussion. If you usually focus on giving statistics or referring to history when discussing your position on a particular issue, try focusing on your values instead. Explain how the issue aligns, or doesn’t, with your values and how it fits into your world view. Give special attention to the ways your values have changed, and why the change happened. If you feel comfortable doing so, you might even encourage and help the other person identify and express their own values in the same way.
Ideally, this strategy will take a certain amount of pressure off of the discussion. Instead of trying to persuade the other person to change their mind, your goal becomes simply to help them understand your point of view, and why you hold it. Even if it goes well, the result may be uncomfortable. It can be hard for family members who love each other to admit that they don’t share the same values.
Even if others don’t respond positively to this strategy, it can still be helpful. Being more aware of, and able to communicate, your own values and world view can help you feel more grounded. This might allow you more space to feel calm during heated discussions, or provide you with an additional tool for setting boundaries.