A Guide to Escaping a Politically Feisty Holiday

How to disagree politely is a lost art in the age of online divisiveness. In this episode, Stever shares some tips for disagreeing, having real conversation, and not ending up at each other's throats.

Stever Robbins
6-minute read
Episode #530

This is Stever Robbins. Welcome to the Get-it-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More.

The holidays are a time to be thankful for the abundance we have in life. They're a time to reflect on our year. They're a time to be charitable and help those less fortunate. A time to show friends and family how much we love them. And, of course, get into political arguments with them that end up with someone being written out of the will. And really, who wants that?

Europa, the secret ruler of the Eastern Bloc masquerading in her secret identity as an employee at Green Growing Things, has a cybernetic teenage son, Thomas. She made him herself. She’s very proud of his 420 IQ, though like any teenager, he is going through a bit of an angst-ridden phase at the moment.

She’s dreading her trip home for the holidays. She’ll be surrounded by family, holiday music playing, with a fire in the hearth. And then Cousin Snord will almost certainly pipe up, “Thomas is such a nice boy. Too bad he’s one of them.

Europa’s blood will boil. Snord’s blood will boil. And no one will have a good time. And since Thomas does have built-in blasters, if he overhears the exchange, things could get serious. Europa’s only hope for peace is to learn how to have a survivable partisan discussion.

Tip 1: It’s about identity, not issues

First, get clear: in 21st-century political discussions, you’re not arguing about issues. You’re not arguing about policy. You’re arguing about identity. Not “identity politics,” but actual emotional, who-am-I identity. 

We’re saturated with media that makes money by driving us to hysteria. So we’ve all stopped having opinions. Instead, we have sound bites and attitudes pounded into our heads by social media, TV media, newspaper media, and cable media. They get ad dollars, and we get...broken. Our issues, opinions, and even language is no longer a choice we’ve made. It’s become part of who we are. And when who we are is challenged, our defenses go up and our claws come out. 

Remember: you’re not trying to be right. You’re trying to understand in a way that brings you closer.

Tip 2: You’re not changing minds

That’s why holiday visits aren’t the time to change minds. Challenging beliefs challenges identity. It’ll lead to fighting.

“But if only I explain to cousin Snord, they’ll instantly love Thomas!” cries Europa. No, they won’t. It’s not that Snord is uninformed. It’s that part of Snord’s identity is being proudly anti-Cyborg. Any pro-Cyborg information would feel like an attack to Snord, and they won’t even be able to hear the information.

So let go of the goal of changing them. Prepare to spend the holidays deepening your relationship with those you love. 

Tip 3: Know your triggers

You and your loved ones will get triggered by identity markers. Some will remind you of your Cousin Snord. You’ll hear them and think “Evil!!! hiss.” Those are the words that will make Snord feel good. They’re Snord’s identity markers. Some words will make you feel good. Those are your identity markers. They’re the words Snord will hear and think “Evil!!! hiss.” 


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.