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Political Conversations as a Family

Jeremy:
I don’t know if you’ve been listening to Jeff’s other podcasts, but he has been ranting about the state of Christians and social media lately, and I wanted to have a little conversation with you, Jeff, about the opposite end of that, which is what do you do when families get together? A lot of us are going into Thanksgiving, Christmas or whatever, holiday seasons, try not to spread COVID on each other while we hang out. But also, we’re in one of the most politically divisive, intense seasons that I’ve certainly ever seen in my lifetime.

And so I want to talk a little bit about how we approach this as families. I don’t know for everyone listening. Man, our family, we have some serious diversity. We have some very right-wing members of our family, and we have some very left-wing members of our family, and we do the Shabbat dinner, and man, it’s been real, the debates that have been happening. And there’s a couple ways you can think about this. I love it.

Jeff:
Yeah. Same.

Jeremy:
I am so glad we have the whole spectrum, and I really enjoy these conversations. But the media is trying to make us hate each other as families, and there are people who literally … We had somebody posted just the other day that they’re going through a divorce because of political disagreements in their family.

Jeff:
Crazy.

Jeremy:
And it is so raw right now. And so putting all that aside, if you were to approach a meal with your family and you know there is a lot of political diversity in the family, and let’s say it was coming to your house and you get to craft the culture of those conversations. Do you avoid them? Do you stoke them? Yeah, Jeff, what are your thoughts? How would you think about how to do that?

Jeff:
So many thoughts. I don’t know if I can answer those in five seconds or five minutes. I would say a couple of things that jump to mind. What I’m about to say is not going to solve all the problems. It’s not the only tips and tricks and whatever. I think that maybe it’s some things that just got prompted is, first of all, go listen to those podcasts on the Real Life podcast a couple weeks ago. I think that’s the baseline.

Then here’s a couple things I’ll say. One good tip is if you feel like, I don’t want to say full hostile because I don’t mean not hostile, but if you’re a person who doesn’t like conflict, maybe like Alyssa, then even someone saying, “I disagree with that,” she’d consider that a hostile environment, I wouldn’t. So that’s a relative word, but I mean, just when tension or whatever you want to call, is at a table with questions, politics, whatever, put a different hat on and only be the question asker. Only be the question asker.

And two reasons. One, and I say this strategically, one, if you’re a Christian, just ask questions because you should seek to understand the person. “I want to know more. I want to know who you are. I want to know your story. I want to know what makes you tick, just as an act of love.”

And then two, from a debate standpoint, I think it’s actually enormously helpful because most people have not very logical arguments. And about seven questions down the road, they realize that themselves. Do you know what I mean? Like, “Well, what do you do about this?” Or “Have you thought about what this would mean with that?” Or “Well then, how do you engage with that policy when this is true over here?” You can ask six or seven of those, and all of a sudden, the thing just goes to ash. 99% of the time. So I would say that.

And then what it does is it’s a level of self-discovery. So one, you should be learning and understanding. You should be taking something. You should know you don’t have all the answers. Two, towards that person, it leads them to a level of self-reflection and self-discovery that’s sharpening, right?

Another easy one that’s kind of a cousin to that is never use the word why. Only use the word what and how. Now, literally, there’s books on that. And again, you can say why in a very honest way. People can hear that. In general it kind of can be the spirit of like, “Well, why?” kind of like, “That’s ridiculous.” Right?

Jeremy:
It’s more combative, yeah.

Jeff:
Yes. Like “Why would you do that?” or “Why do you believe that?” There’s something about that word that does trigger a lot of people, especially in these kinds of conversations, when a what or a how has a little bit more tone of like, “I am confused. I would like to understand more.”

Jeremy:
That’s good.

Jeff:
That spirit of why never tends to have that, in general. Of course, there’s exceptions, and people can ask that, but I have just noticed that. And so I’ve literally done that. Even when I just said all the examples, all of them are what and how. Well, what about this? Or can you tell me how would this work then? It does something. It just kind of goes a little more neutral. So that’s an easy one.

And then two, get your identity outside of all that stuff, so it doesn’t actually matter what that person says. “You all need to chill with being so offended and so defensive and so just get over yourselves.” Now, is there some things that people believe that are vitriolic, evil, toxic, and hateful, that are a matter of life and death at some level? Absolutely. Do I think the culture over-cranks that a million times? Yes. And so you’ve got to hold both of those as true, but most of the time, I actually don’t even understand why people get up in arms a lot of times. I’m just like, “Why not just talk about what they said and tell them why they’re wrong?” And then we can go from there.

Jeremy:
Yes. Man, yeah. And I would say, too, one of the things you want to figure out as a father is, how do you create a culture where these kinds of conversations are healthy?

Jeff:
Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.

Jeremy:
Jeff is throwing out some really good practical ways of crafting that culture. Another way of doing that is to sort of, and I really encourage, anytime you have an intentional meal, if it’s a Shabbat meal or a Thanksgiving meal, there should be a moment where the father sort of stands up and talks about the meaning. And I would use that opportunity maybe even to craft the culture of conversation and say, “Hey, we don’t all come from the same ideas. And so I would love for us to have those conversations.” And I think those are really life-giving and really interesting. And you just sort of talk about this in a way that gives people permission to relax. And say, “We have a lot of time.” Because I think one of the things that really-

Jeff:
Yes, that’s a really good way to put it because it’s an ongoing discussion in spirit.

Jeremy:
Yeah. “We are in this for the long haul. We’re a family, and we need to understand each other. There needs to be place for us to have conversations around things that really matter, but we also need to do that in a way that is enjoyable. And so let’s do our best, and so grateful you guys are here, and we can talk about whatever comes up, and we’re excited to hear what you think, and we’ll ask some questions.”

And so I think that just learning how to create that culture, and that is so good for your children. Because I’ll tell you that there are families, many families I know, who had a culture politically of, we only allow this spectrum of opinions at our table or in our house. And my goodness, if you want to see a black sheep of the family leave, if one of your kids starts to poke some holes in those ideas or they start eroding when they’re in college or at any point in their life, they don’t just lose their beliefs politically. They also feel like they’re losing their family. And oftentimes something really dramatic will happen from a relational perspective.

So it’s really good for your little kids to see different opinions at your table and for it to be okay. But you’re going to have to fight the entrenched crazy, and like what you were describing, Jeff, is just the way the media has just turned all these opinions up at a 10. Everything is life or death, and we’ve got to fight about it now. And you’re all evil if you disagree. So you’ve got to find a way to turn that down.

If you believe that, by the way, if that’s where you’re at, if you think that it’s worth blowing up relationships immediately if somebody disagrees with you about one of these issues, then I would say, in that case avoid at all costs these conversations. It won’t be healthy, but that’s not the ideal. So hopefully those will give you guys some ideas of how to do this.

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