Forgive me if I’m overstepping, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that we’re living in a time of intense political division. If you’re like most folks, that sentence probably seems laughable. We’re not only living in a time of stringent political division, we’re steeped to our ears in it. No matter whether we see ourselves as Republicans or Democrats, research reveals that many of us carry unfavorable biases, both consciously and unconsciously, against people who don’t identify with our party. And these biases can lead us to treat others unfairly based on their political beliefs alone. In 1960, roughly four to five percent of us found the notion of our child marrying someone across party lines bothersome. In 2010, between 33 to 49% of us nursed notable disquiet at the idea.
And in the 2016 election cycle, we’re diving even deeper into the divide. On the face of it, our descent makes sense. This election isn’t like others (not in recent memory anyway). It’s gotten more personal. Regardless of whom we’re supporting, it’s difficult to deny that most people dislike Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and that both candidates arouse powerful feelings.
But the impact of this election is more profound than how we feel about the candidates. It’s seeping into our closest relationships. There are about seven percent fewer friendships out there, thanks to this election cycle. And married couples have threatened divorce, quarreled, and evaded political discussions when they used to explore them merrily.
Indeed, it can feel like an upstream swim to wrap our minds and hearts around the knowledge that someone we know, respect, and love actually supports a candidate we despise and would loathe seeing in the White House. On top of that, the mental traps of a) equating the person with the candidate or b) buying into faulty, unflattering stereotypes tempt our human brains.
Honestly, what’s the matter with you, voting for Clinton/Trump?
I thought I knew you! I don’t know if I can see you in the same way if you vote for Clinton/Trump.
If you vote for Clinton/Trump, I won’t be able to handle it.
If you vote for Clinton/Trump, then you must be like her/him.
If you’re willing to vote for Clinton/Trump, then you must be_______
- Gullible/easily fooled by the media
- Fill in the blank…
The thing is, friends, soon this highly divisive, hostile election is going to be over, but our relationships, the people we care about, and our communities will still be there. It’s easy to get caught up in the swirl of negative notions about people who support that other candidate or that other party. That’s right, we’re human and our minds make mistakes. Thankfully, we have the capacity to choose whether to remain in the storm or pull ourselves out of it, turning the dial down on these unflattering judgments while turning up the dial on what shines within people. Let’s not allow the venom of this election, or any other, to undermine our relationships with people or our willingness to give our fellow citizens the benefit of the doubt. We can rise to whatever level we set for ourselves. Let’s ascend higher.
If you’re wondering how you can turn up the dial on your esteem for someone you love, or how you can challenge stereotypes based on party, here are some ideas:
What do you appreciate and admire about your loved one? Remind yourself that the person you loved before the election is the same person now, with the same endearing, praiseworthy qualities.
Remember that your loved one is an individual with his/her own reasons for supporting a candidate. The reasons other people give may not map onto your loved one’s rationale. Similarly, your loved one is not the candidate and may not support all of that candidate’s positions. Consider listening to your loved one’s point of view with the goal of truly understanding, not judging or convincing him/her to see things your way.
Look for the positive elements attached to your loved one’s stance. For instance, you might choose to see his/her willingness to share a different opinion from yours as a sign of independence, honesty, integrity, or trust in you.
Try to flip the situation around and see it from your loved one’s point of view. What kind of understanding and acceptance would you want?
Step back and look at what’s truly important to you. How much does your relationship with your loved one mean to you? Is an election worth the distance and discord?
Think about the long view and imagine yourself 20 years in the future. Do you want an election to have so much power that it becomes a turning point in your relationship?
Envision the person you most want to be. Do you want to be someone who stereotypes people, judges them, or treats them unfavorably because of whom they vote for or their political party? If not, challenge yourself to separate the person from the candidate or the party.
When you meet someone who identifies with a different political party, try remaining attentive rather than tuning out. Strive for good-natured, constructive communication that makes the conversation feel enjoyable and allows you to get to know the individual beyond party membership.
If it seems like politically hostile zingers and stereotypes are swarming through your social media world, give yourself permission to turn the dial down on caustic negativity and practice the art of disengagement. For example, you might choose to take a little break from social media or pass over posts that reinforce political bad blood.
What stereotypes exist about your party? Can you be boiled down to those stereotypes? Is everyone in your party the same? If you said no, challenge yourself to extend this same charity to folks in the other party, seeing them as unique individuals.