Leave politics behind during the holidays


Akasha Khalsa

For many of us, the holiday season is a time of mixed anticipation and dread. With the recent excessive political polarization in our media and society, it is often difficult to relate with family members in a loving, or at the very least friendly way when we gather together.

Tensions inevitably crop up. Perhaps Grandpa says something unknowingly racist, or an environment-conscious aunt yells at the assembled family for failing to recycle an aluminum dish. We’re all familiar with uncomfortable instances of political tensions hindering our loving family interaction. It’s not uncommon to hear of individuals losing contact altogether with a relative as a result of differing views.

According to a 2016 study reported by The Washington Post, families with political disagreements ended their Thanksgiving celebrations much earlier than families without those tensions. This change in behavior usually cost families 20 to 40 minutes of time together. Often, families with political divisions cancelled their Thanksgiving plans and refused to see their relatives.

This phenomenon was not unique to this study. In response to the high anxiety surrounding family gatherings during the holidays, The New York Times created an “Angry Uncle Bot” to provide readers with an opportunity to practice interacting with a family member who holds conflicting political views. While playing with this simple simulation likely does little to diminish the stress of fraught family gatherings, its creation points to a growing concern over friction within families. Sadly, this discord can hinder our enjoyment of times that should be set aside for celebration, warmth and shared food. This is true for any family gathering where political tensions, whether voiced or beneath the surface, get in the way of enjoying the company of our loved ones.

Exacerbating tensions, the polarized media we consume often teaches us to regard our political opposite as an irrational, spiteful or intentionally malicious force. We form a caricature of that conservative grandpa or liberal aunt. Instead of looking at our relatives and remembering what brings us closer together, such as family history or shared memories from childhood, we cling to political identities that ask us to hate the opposing force.

However, it does not make us disloyal liberals or untrue conservatives to love Grandpa, despite his offensive or abrasive antics. When a family member says something we find offensive, rather than responding to them based on divisive narratives about the opposing side and demonizing this person, perhaps it would serve us better to remember their flawed humanity and simply move on.

Why do we gather during the holidays if it’s only to frustrate ourselves by encountering our political opposition? Many of us see going to family functions as a responsibility rather than something enjoyable. We might conclude that the entire experience is no longer worthwhile and refuse to attend holidays with family altogether. Instead, we might gather with those our own age, or those who
think like us.

However, family gatherings are valuable opportunities to expose ourselves to differing personalities and viewpoints and remind ourselves that we can love what is different from us. We can generally avoid interacting on any personal and meaningful level with people of opposite views, but family forces us to practice relating to our political opposites as complex human beings, breaking the narrative created by our media. During holiday gatherings, we could enjoy the opportunity to be reminded that the other side isn’t truly the other side at all.

Rather than isolating ourselves and cementing a group identity based on one political viewpoint or the other, during holiday gatherings we simply share food, company and nurturance. This opportunity is something to be appreciated rather than dreaded, and perhaps small changes, like the way we interact with our relatives, will contribute to a reduction in the political animosity that surrounds us.