FARGO — For the past few months, Americans have been through one of the most divisive election seasons in recent history. Social media is chock-full of blistering comments about the “idiots" on the other side, and when fingers aren’t busy typing rebukes to those “idiots,” they’re busy pressing the “unfriend” and “unfollow” buttons so they never have to hear from that person again.
Now that the election is over, you’d like to think we could just move forward, accept the results and get back to the friendships we had pre-election.
Easier said than done.
For too many people, the process of deciding who should take power in our democracy has had the power to damage friendships and family relationships.
With the holiday season nearly upon us, how are we supposed to make nice at the dinner table when visions of telling off your uncle are dancing in your head? How can you keep the "GRRRRRR" out of "Pass the gravy?"
Go in asking 'What can I control?'
It really can be as simple as "The Serenity Prayer," written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, used in support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
People get so riled up during elections because how we vote often depends upon what we value most, and we tend to accept evidence and claims that support our values. When others don’t see it our way, we feel stress at our lack of control.
The fact is, no matter how logical you think your argument is, you might not be able to make that uncle budge in his differing beliefs.
Ultimately, we cannot control another person. We can possibly affect them with what we say and what we do, but in the end, we cannot decide for them.
Often, all we can control is how we respond and react to what others are saying. For example, if you found peace "unfriending" someone on Facebook during the election, ask yourself "Do I miss seeing what that person is up to now?" Based upon your answer, you can restore the contact on social media. (Facebook gives you the option to unfollow or snooze people for a while without having to unfriend them. That might be a better option for the future.)
Understand not all conflict is bad
Those words might be hard to hear for many people in North Dakota and Minnesota, some of which were raised amid Scandinavian stoicism. Conflict is uncomfortable, and criticisms are often cloaked in passive aggressive comments. Anything else would make it hard to digest the lefse. But the fact is, it is possible to have healthy debate at the Thanksgiving table.
One of the keys is to remember a concept author Stephen Covey laid out in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” — the principle of empathic communication. This is where you should “seek first to understand, then be understood.” Simply put, before automatically attacking someone else’s beliefs, try to understand why they feel this way and how their past life experiences might have led them to form that opinion.
“Conflict can be good. It can help to develop me as a person or an organization, but only when we are willing to listen and have an open dialogue.,” said Robert Jones, an Employee Assistance Program trainer with The Village Business Institute. “Sadly, this does not seem to be the culture of our society. We are so focused on being right or winning the argument that we are not willing to entertain an idea that is contradictory to ours.”
By seeking to learn why someone feels a certain way, instead of just trying to be right, both people involved in the conversation might learn something. Minds might not be changed, but some peace can come from understanding.
Pick your battles
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that it’s OK to feel a little comfortable with discomfort. Maybe we feel ill at ease because society needs to be healed — it needs to grow and evolve. Ten years ago, in the interest of family harmony, you might have been advised to say nothing when Grandma makes a racist remark. Now might be the time to tell her you love her, but her comments are hurtful and are no longer acceptable. The buck has to stop somewhere.
In most cases, an appropriately worded rebuke of a racist joke, for example, won’t spell the end of a family relationship or a friendship. If it does, you might have to ask yourself how strong that relationship was in the first place. The fact is, relationships ebb and flow and occasionally just end. Someone who might have been a dear friend when you were a teenager has grown in a different direction and is no longer someone who needs to be in your life. Of course, it’s more challenging with familial relationships.
It’s rarely personal
This tip can be hard to understand in a world where politics often come down to name-calling. It’s easy to call someone you don’t know a nasty name on Twitter, but how often would you call a real friend or relation a nasty name? Not very often. Disagreeing with a loved one or friend does not mean that they don’t like you. According to psychologist Thomas J. Leeper, political disagreements are secondary to personal relationships, and while political disagreements might be frustrating, they are rarely “about you."
You might feel less hurt by conflict if you don’t feel personally attacked.
“People come to their political opinions through a variety of processes — exposure to information in the mass media, learned views from parents and other close connections, life experiences that teach about political matters — but we rarely form opinions on issues because we dislike someone,” Leeper writes in Psychology Today.
Remember the good
It has been a heck of a year with COVID-19, racial unrest and political division. Amid all of that, counselors advise you to remember, you are not meant to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. If the "wrong" candidate wins office, it does not solely fall upon you to fix whatever mess he or she makes. Work where you can make a change, run for office yourself, listen to others and try to see that no matter how much you disagree with someone, they are probably not all bad.
Other advice to cope with post-election/holiday stress
Take a walk outside.
Set aside 5 minutes to be goofy.
Eat your favorite meal.
Find a relaxing scent.
Do some gentle stretches.
Listen to some soothing music.
Source: The Village Family Service Center