Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I thought once this election was over, my friends and I would go back to normal, but no such luck, and I really need advice.
My close group of friends — I guess these days we would call them my “bubble” — have been having pretty major disagreements about the election. A couple people were very vocally pro-Biden, a couple were very vocally pro-Trump, and a couple of us, including me, are in the middle, where we knew who we were voting for but we don’t really join or promote the debate. We’re in our late 20s, so this was not our first presidential election. But it felt like the first time we all talked about our votes so much, and everyone seemed to take everything so personally. I feel like my friends have said things to each other they can’t take back and these election debates have hurt our dynamic and, in a way, divided us into factions.
We’ve been friends since college, and we always knew there were differences. They just never tore us apart like this before. I love my friends. How can I get everyone to just stop talking about this stuff and focus on the fact that we actually like each other and really need each other right now?
Fact: Very few of us have a friend group that is completely homogenous in our political views. Why? Because we have all been shaped by such a variety of experiences in this world. And while facts can be compelling and interesting, most of our views are foundationally rooted in our personal experiences. In other words, the things we’ve lived through and the things that have happened to us are what drive the outcomes that are our political viewpoints.
Here’s where we stumble in these achingly frustrating political conversations with friends: We’re all trying to change each others' minds. We’re all trying to win. We’re so passionately and completely dug into our own truths, that we can’t understand why people we care about differ, and we’re doggedly trying to pull them over to our side.
Well, maybe all of us aren’t feeling that way. Some of us are just desperately trying to change the conversation or hope everyone will move on already. But the most vocal generally fall into that trap of combative conversation, and it’s all too easy for any of us to find ourselves arguing our point profusely, loudly, repeatedly — even as we know doing so is not going to change anyone’s minds at all.
So back it up. If your friends insist on talking politics, try to guide the conversation. Instead of letting the discourse be a battle, where lines are drawn and people are trying to say the most profound, important, winnable things, come at it from a place of sharing and compassion. Why does one friend feel a certain way? What did they go through in life that led them to value that issue, or take that position, or be offended by a specific action? If you can steer the conversation toward sharing each others' experiences versus vilifying your contrary opinions, you may make some small steps away from acrimonious anger and even strengthen your friendships by better understanding your differences.
The election is over? Seriously? When did that happen? Someone please alert our sitting president and his army of lawyers, as well as Alaska’s Division of Elections, because they all contend that there are still votes to count, races to determine and that this election is far. From. Over. Ugh.
I understand that voices get louder, opinions get sharper, and political passions get hotter during election season. But if your friend group is currently a democratic disaster on the verge of disbanding right now, how the heck have you all survived the past four years? I can’t believe that convos about local, state and national politics and policy just started getting personal and elevated in recent months. How did you navigate those waters for years and still continue meeting up, hugging it out and letting partying with friends trump party affiliation?
Maybe you, like millions of others, are just feeling ultra-sensitive, extra-anxious and downright election exhausted right now, and because of that you aren’t reading the situation with clear ears and eyes. You’re in the meh-middle politically, and just want everyone to get along and move past this confusing, if not traumatic, time as soon as possible. Totally understandable. Take a breath and trust me: as things begin calming down on the national political landscape, the energy will mellow out among your friends, too. I mean, you’re friends, not a debate club. You have to have something else interesting to talk about other than politics, right?