Straight Talk Advice

Oct 15, 2008

Talking politics — without fighting

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: I’m 21 and I never realized how political my parents were. When I visit from college, we get in these huge political arguments. I’m genuinely upset with their viewpoints. I feel their opinions stem from prejudice, fear, and ignorance, with no regard for the greater good. For instance, they don’t even believe global warming is real. The situation becomes openly hostile, especially if they’ve had a drink or two. I love my parents very much. How can I open their minds to what’s really going on in the world? It’s too important to just shut up.


Kendal, 22

You can’t change another person’s mind. You can present facts rationally, you can be passionate, but you won’t change someone who believes they are right. That’s why voting is so important. Make sure you vote, and encourage your friends to vote. My dad and I agree on most things, except a certain social issue. I can’t change his perspective (I’ve tried), but I can vote to offset his vote. That’s why even one small vote is important; everyone makes a difference.

Lennon, 22

My parents are open-minded, but lots of older relatives and family friends vote strictly down party lines. It’s impossible to converse with them because they simply restate their position over and over and don’t think much. For example, I asked a family friend which VP candidate he thought was more qualified. His reply: “I know which one I’d like to sleep with.” The problem is people only listen to who they are voting for. No one listens to the other side. Very few know how to have a conversation where the goal is not to rebut everything and “win” as fast as possible. Start small. Practice dialoging around less important disagreements. Be the leader. Don’t think of comebacks before they finish talking. Listen. Ask clarifying questions. Avoid generalizations and stereotypes. Offer books and articles you find inspiring.

Emily, 16

Is converting two people to your views worth breaking up your family? You say you don’t want to be quiet, but you must try. Don’t silence everything, but say less, and say it calmly. Print out information about your candidate, state what issues are important to you, agree to disagree, then, change the subject. 

Ashley, 21

My parents and I have totally different political opinions, too. I tried forever to change/open their minds but now I don’t talk to them about politics. We just agree to disagree — it’s better than starting a fight. Bring them a column on global warming from a science magazine so they can read it themselves.

Graham, 15

When I discuss ballot issues with my family I always remind myself that for the discussion to benefit both sides, both sides need to be open. Try looking up points you are unsure of and share what you find.

Geoff, 23

The problem is most parents only have time to get information from a few sources: the local paper, Fox, CNBC, etc., so, whenever I can, I email or clip my dad a story. My parents raised me to be open-minded. They avoided using words like “never” and “always” because the world — including Obama and McCain — is more complicated than that. Having genuine communication about politics with those who think differently requires maturity. You can’t yell or tell people how wrong or backward their views are. Be patient, calm, and ask probing questions.

DEAR CATHERINE: That’s right. And the question I like is: “What do you value?” For instance, in discussing global warming, put party politics aside and simply name what you value (climate stabilization, species survival, lower heating/cooling costs, etc.). Then ask what they value. Almost always you will find some agreement and feeling of joined purpose. Stop there. Minds have been opened on both sides. NOW GO VOTE!

  1. By Kyle, 16, Colfax, CA, age , on 10/17/2008

    You’re being one-sided. Who should be president is an opinion and opinions don’t mean you’re “correct”.  The two candidates have highly different views on most everything so debate is likely to occur. The election is over in a few weeks and until then don’t bring up politics.  If your parents do, say you would rather talk about school or something you can all agree on.  Simply explain that while you may have different views, you appreciate theirs.  Your parents are the first in a long line of people in your life that you will have different opinions from, so learn to be diplomatic.  Also, regarding global warming, don’t listen to what you hear, do your own research.

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