The holiday season is upon us, and family gatherings are about to begin! The anticipation of family gatherings may provoke mixed emotions; you may be excited to see loved ones, reminded of the loved ones that have passed that will be absent this year, or dreading unavoidably difficult conversations. Discussions about contentious political topics often sour a previously joyful gathering. One of your family members may interrupt the conversation by baiting others to provide their opinion on who they voted for in the midterm election or a recent government ruling. Unfortunately, these conversations can quickly evolve into debates where each person tries to convince others that their political opinions are superior and worthy of wholeheartedly embracing. Tragically, political discord can negatively impact our relationships.

Porch Talks is an organization that seeks to shift political conversations with loved ones from becoming a harmful debate to eliciting empathy and understanding. Central to Porch Talks is the dialogue toolkit that guides participants as they embark on the journey to mend relationships that have been damaged by divisive politics. Through independent reflection and dialogue, the toolkit helps participants explore how their personal experiences have shaped their views.

The current political climate has forced Americans to align their views with those that resemble the Republican or Democratic party based on divisive social opinions on race, sexual orientation and gender identity issues, to name a few. However, Porch Talks believes that there is great value in allowing people to add nuance to their political views. When nuance is allowed, similarity and connection can be realized.

What the toolkit is not:

The toolkit is not a resource to help you convince others that your perspective is correct or to solve a familial conflict. Instead, when trusted, the toolkit will ensure that each individual feels heard.

Application during the holidays: 

Although it may not be possible or practical to dedicate a couple of hours to the toolkit during your holiday gatherings, strategies embedded throughout the toolkit will prove helpful to:

  1. Encourage your family members to tell a story about how their personal experiences and upbringing have shaped their beliefs. Potential questions that can encourage your loved ones to tell their story include:
    • When you were growing up, how did this particular issue impact you?
    • What was your first experience with this topic?
    • How did your family talk about this issue when you were a child?
  2. Ask your loved one about how their opinion on the particular topic has benefited or hurt them.
    • What is a specific instance in which you have benefited or been hurt by the opinion you hold?
    • What benefit has your perspective brought you?
  3. Acknowledge their opinion and ask them to tell you more. To genuinely acknowledge the opinion of your family members, you must be actively listening and asking open-ended questions motivated by a desire to understand their story. You can practice active listening by:
    • Reflecting and summarizing what you heard them say by using their own words. This can be done by saying “what I hear you saying is…”
    • Respectfully communicate with your body language.

As a church leader, the toolkit can help in a variety of ways (for instance, in a difficult conversation with staff or congregational members). Imagine navigating a conversation where you and your elder have divergent views of the role of women in ministry. Laying a good foundation, embracing the non-negotiables of your relationship and then applying good listening skills with the goal of understanding before being understood make for a more productive dialogue. What difference would this make in this conversation? What difference will this make in the relationships with your team? What difference could this make within your congregation and the community it serves to become known as a community of peace?

My hope is that this holiday season allows you to hear the stories of your family members, learn something new, and begin mending broken relationships through understanding and respect.

Thanks to Zoe Reinecke and her contribution to this blog. To read more about Zoe and the Porch Talks team – CLICK HERE.


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