By Cam Lawrence
Art by Charlie LaMountain
As this year is an election year, political tensions in our country are at an all-time high.There are Twitter debates, nationally-televised presidential debates and even debates happening within families due to different political beliefs. These debates are not always friendly and often end poorly.
These kinds of political disagreements can feel personal and affect our relationships. I experienced this myself recently when I put a friendship to rest because their political beliefs aligned with morals that I could not support, but I soon realized that I cannot remove every person who has different views than me from my life.
Seeking advice on how to navigate relationships in this heated political climate, I reached out to school chaplain Reverend Katherine McQuiston Bush (‘93) and Upper School guidance counselor Mrs. Allison Wellford Parker (‘83). Here’s what they had to say.
When should we place a boundary on political discussion in a relationship?
Parker: My mom, growing up, would say that you don’t talk about politics or religion or money, and I believe that dialogue is always important in a mutually respectful relationship … A person, knowing that they are safe and that [the person they are talking to] is going to listen to them, does not need to put up a boundary [of no political discussion]. But when somebody hasn’t built that kind of relationship, an easier way to start that relationship is not with political discussion. Politics might not be the first thing you want to jump into … A political conversation is not to convince somebody to believe what I believe. It is a conversation trying to understand other views and share perspectives.
Bush: There’s definitely a time and place for things. Some relationships can handle [political discussion] and some cannot. However, if we never talk about anything, then we are doing ourselves a grave disservice. We need to talk about our faith, politics, worldview, etc. We need to do it and practice doing it by approaching the conversation with care and intention and respect … Politics is personal to me and you, so the boundary needs to come up when we start to take it personally, when we lose the ability to acknowledge and remember that you are my friend.
What do we do when we feel a person’s opinion is disrespectful or immoral, rather than just different from our own?
Parker: There are all kinds of relationships out there where people could not differ more politically or morally. Even though politics and morals are personal, it is important to try to see the human, the person, and understand them. We can be on completely different sides of this and still have conversations and a relationship…When a person is set in stone in their [beliefs] that is when it is time to walk away. We are not going to change each other’s opinions.
Bush: I think our politics shape our morals, and our morals shape our politics. I’m not sure you can cleanly say whether we are talking about one or the other … People can definitely coexist with different morals and political views, but it’s also okay to say, ‘I’m investing in these relationships, but I’m going to not put too much into this one because we disagree too much, and it is hurtful.’
When is it okay to walk away from a relationship because of a difference in opinion?
Parker: If this [conversation] is harmful with attack after attack, and it’s getting personal, it is okay to say you agree to disagree … It’s okay to choose to not engage in it … You can depersonalize those who have made it personal.
Bush: There are relationships worth the investment, and there are times where it is perfectly acceptable to say that you need a break… I think it is okay to walk away. That isn’t losing. Sometimes, the best way to love ourselves and others is to simply walk away.
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