Every family has that one relative that can’t stop forcing their controversial political stances down everyone’s throats. You’re home for the holidays and want to get through an enjoyable meal in peace, but they just won’t stop talking about what’s ruining the country. Here’s how to deal with them and keep the holiday intact.
Man yelling at woman on Christmas via Shutterstock
If you and your family love talking about politics in a civil manner, carry on. We’re not here to get in your way. What most of us don’t like is when everyone wants to have a nice dinner together and that one crazy uncle goes on a rant about how Muslim Socialists are ruining the Christmas ham. Or when someone’s niece lectures everyone on how they need to reduce their microaggressions to stop global warming.
Respecting a person’s beliefs doesn’t mean they get to trample everyone else with them, especially on a holiday the whole family wants to share together. If one person insists on flapping their mouth and causing problems, here’s how to deal with them. This is not a guide on how to win an argument. We already have one of those. Instead, we want to keep the peace and enjoy the holiday, not indulge the conflict.
Focus on the Person, Not the Belief
You don’t have to respect every single idea in the world. If you find someone’s beliefs appalling enough, you can cut them out of your life. You probably don’t invite any KKK members to go see a movie with you, for example. However, when it comes to the holidays, there’s probably a good reason that annoying person is in the house with you.
Maybe they were invited because they’re important to the host. Maybe they’re here because, despite your clearly sage advice, someone you care about is dating them. Maybe someone just didn’t want them to be alone for the holidays. There are a lot of good reasons to be open and inviting to people, no matter their political opinions, on a holiday. It’s kind of the point of holidays, isn’t it?
Before you respond to someone who starts an unwelcome political discussion, remember why they’re there. Despite your differences, you both agreed to share a few hours and a meal together. Even if they were invited by someone else, they matter to someone whose company you value. You will probably have plenty of time to argue with them on Facebook later, but for now it’s OK to prioritise the relationship you have with the people in the room first. Or, to put it more directly, you can deal with it like an adult for one day.
Don’t Take the Bait
When someone states a political opinion you disagree with, it feels like they have challenged you to a duel, with your honour on the line if you fail to accept. In reality, it’s a lot more like someone offering you a month-old muffin. You don’t have to take it, and your life will probably be worse if you do. Likewise, just because someone makes a political statement doesn’t mean you have to respond.
One of the worst things you can do when confronted with a political argument you don’t want to have, is have it. Not only because it encourages them to continue, but because now there’s two people involved. One person’s beliefs yelled into a vacuum is just a rant. Two or more people and it becomes an argument. Good job.
Not engaging can feel like losing. Especially if you have a really cantankerous person who sees your unwillingness to argue as proof they’re right. However, remember your real objective: to prevent the discussion in the first place. If they shout their ideas at you, and you don’t engage, you win. If you want to prevent a forest fire, you don’t start by lighting foliage ablaze (well, OK sometimes you do, but not in this metaphor).
Have Plenty of Distractions on Hand
Christmas already comes with a few built-in distractions. There’s a big table full of food, presents, and you could maybe even work in some time to go to church if you’re so inclined. However, if you want to maintain a politics-free zone, it helps to have something else to do to distract from political discussions, before or after they occur. Here are a few ideas:
- Watch a movie. The right movie can appeal to anyone. Best of all, when you’re watching, you’re not supposed to be talking. Usually. Offer to put on a nice holiday movie (hint: Die Hard) for everyone to watch after dinner and there’s an automatic distraction on the nearest TV.
- Crank some music. If you want to take a page out of SNL’s not-as-silly-as-it-sounds playbook, override a budding political conversation by putting on a catchy song everyone will stop to listen to. Here’s a list of ten of the catchiest songs, according to scientific research. Because science always succeeds in stopping an ill-advised argument.
- Talk to someone else. Just because your obnoxious relative is demanding your attention doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. If you don’t want to engage, end the conversation and talk to someone else. They will either find someone else that’s willing to listen, or drop it.
- Talk about something else. A little rudeness can go a long way. If the conversation is coming up at the dinner table, change the subject. Rudely, if you have to. It may feel like a dick move, but chances are good that most of the other people at the table won’t begrudge you for taking one for the team. They might even leap in to help you out.
This can be a delicate balancing act, but it can also be liberating to take charge. Remember, the one person who just has to share their political views isn’t the only person at the table. This is especially important if you’re the host. Actively engaging with the other loved ones you’re there to spend time with is a great way to distract from the uncomfortable topics without ruining the day. And besides, having fun with people you care about is what you’re there for.
Keep the Booze to a Minimum
Wait, come back. OK, yes. I get it. For some of us, a stiff drink may be the only way to get through a meal with your family. However, alcohol also has a tendency to loosen lips. Like the ones attached to the person that’s currently explaining how maths is just something foreigners invented to make our kids dumber. No one’s saying you can’t have a drink so you can deal with that crap. Just don’t turn the holiday into a drunk political smackdown.
How you drink is just as important as how much you drink. If you grab a beer and sit on the couch to watch Carols In The Domain, that’s a little more mild than grabbing a bottle of whiskey and shouting “Let’s get this party started!” In the former case, you get to have your liquid courage without drawing attention to the act, or reminding a particularly cantankerous guest that they have an excuse to get louder. If you’re the host, you can also help by either limiting the amount of booze in the house, or only quietly sharing the good stuff with the people you can trust to not make a ruckus.
Ask Them to Stop Directly
It’s good to open your home and welcome everyone on the holidays. Despite our differences, cutting other people out and telling them off does nothing to resolve the conflicts that undermine our holidays, our empathy, and our humanity. We can accept and love each other, in spite of the disagreements that so typically define us. On the other hand, it’s also OK to tell someone to shut the hell up when you need to.
OK, so maybe you shouldn’t use that phrasing. But if one person is becoming particularly problematic, it’s OK to ask them to stop directly. If you’re not comfortable being that direct, you can ask the host (or the person who brought the guest in question) to do so instead. We’ve already covered plenty of strategies on how to deal with someone who has overstayed their welcome. Just be respectful, but firmly insist that your family get to enjoy their holiday.
Escape Gracefully If You Accidentally Get Sucked In
Despite your best efforts, you still might end up faced with a lengthy diatribe about how vaccines are a false flag operation to indoctrinate our dogs into ISIS. For the conversations you just can’t help, learn how to duck out gracefully. Remember, again, your goal is not to win the conversation. Your goal is to end it.
We’ve talked before about how to get out of an unwanted political conversation, but here are a few key tips:
- Look for an escape immediately. Don’t hesitate to find an exit. The more you listen, the more the person talking will believe their rant is welcome. If you’re planning to get out, get out fast.
- Direct them away from negativity. A good amount of political ranting comes from being dissatisfied. If someone’s ranting at your holiday event, steer the conversation to something positive (and preferably not political). It’s a time of thankfulness, good cheer, and all that fun stuff. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a positive topic.
- Have something more important to do. This one’s super easy to do during the holidays. Babies are crying, food is burning, decorations are falling off the walls. Something, somewhere needs fixing. Get out of the conversation by explaining that you need to go help wash the dishes. Not only do you duck the rant, but you’re helping out, and that’s always nice!
Of course, when all else fails, you can also take the hit. Like we said in the beginning of this article, it’s one day. You don’t want one person’s rant to ruin everyone’s evening, but you can also let the occasional snide remark slide. If you’re the one person stuck in a corner for ten minutes listening to the story of how the Australian Mint is coating pennies in dihydrogen monoxide to secretly sterilize our fish, maybe that’s a small price to pay to make this one day easier on everyone else. We can always go back to being angry tomorrow.