Grace Jordan, Campus Carrier arts & living editor

Students are packing up and moving out for winter break tomorrow. With going home comes the anxiety of difficult conversations over the holidays. Most students will be sitting around the dining table with their extended family, and discussions over controversial topics like politics will be held. Navigating those hard conversations can be challenging, but these hard talks can be important. 

Eric Sands, professor of political science, says that while these conversations can be hard, there is an importance to political dialogue. 

“Political dialogue is critically important to the health of a democratic society,” Sands said. “We have to be able to talk to one another to reach consensus on public policy issues, on principles, on a whole host of things. So there’s a lot that needs to be done in the way of civic discourse so that we can learn more about issues and problems. We can learn more about the political system, we can learn more about our elected officials, learn more about the electoral process and better inform ourselves and the opinions we hold about politics in the process.” 

Hard conversations, mainly politics, are harder to discuss with our families because of the dynamics and differences in power. However, these discussions can still be dealt with in a healthy manner. 

“I think they can be healthy,” Sands said. “Dynamics with parents and grandparents are complicated. Parents have a kind of authority over us, that other citizens don’t. So when we’re conversing with friends, acquaintances, coworkers and people of that nature we’re meeting on a kind of equal playing field. That’s not as true when we’re talking about conversing with our parents and grandparents. We’re conversing then from a point of, kind of, inferiority. It can make it harder to disagree, it can make it harder when a parent is very adamant about their beliefs to say ‘hey, I don’t really agree with that.’ It can make those conversations somewhat uncomfortable.” 

Carley Price, a counselor at the Counseling Center, says students should first determine what they are comfortable talking about and set boundaries. 

“The most important thing to do is decide what is acceptable for you,” Price said. “So decide what your limits are regarding those conversations because it is perfectly okay to say these are the things I’m willing to talk about, these are the things I will not engage in while we’re at the dinner table. Set your boundaries. That is the most important thing and a good place to start is figuring out for you.” 

Price explains that people feel differently about difficult conversations. Some people like arguing and want to engage, while others would rather skip these discussions, but one person is right or wrong. 

“Some people welcome the debate; some people relish a chance to talk about those things and really enjoy those difficult conversations,” Price said. “Some people are reduced to a pile of anxious mush.” 

Assessing your boundaries is easier than sticking to them. If you are not sure how to hold your boundaries, stating them at the beginning of the conversation can make your boundaries known and help you keep them. 

“It might cause a little more difficulty at first or more tension, but just stating that boundary, Price said. “If it comes up and somebody asks you, ‘so who did you vote for’ it’s okay to be like, ‘I really don’t want to get into this right now.’ Especially if it’s someone you know that likes to argue or you know has a different opinion. It’s okay to say, ‘you know I don’t really see a way for us to have a conversation about this that’s going to be productive or peaceful. So I’m just choosing not to engage with it.’”

However, sometimes the boundaries you have set are not respected. Family members might try to continue arguing with you. When this happens, it is okay to restate your position and not engage. 

“If someone is pushing your boundary, they are not respecting you, so you have every right to stand up for yourself in that moment,” Price said. “You have the right to stick up for yourself and say ‘I’ve said I’m not going to talk about this, please don’t keep pushing me.’ Depending on the situation and where you are, ‘If you continue to push me on this I will just remove myself.’ At that point in time the other person is not being respectful so there’s nothing disrespectful about setting the boundary. Sometimes we confuse willingness to engage and set a boundary with disrespect, that’s just not the case. We have a right to do that.” 

Sands adds that if one is to engage in these difficult conversations, or are around people who are engaging in them, the best course of action is to be nonconfrontational. 

“Students are headed home and are heading into environments where they may get into these difficult conversations,” Sands said. “I think the best approach is to try to remain nonconfrontational. There’s a time and a place for political discourse, the table at Thanksgiving dinner is not usually a really good place to start bringing up politics. You are allowed to ignore these conversations. If it’s the wrong place, the wrong time don’t rise to the bait, let it flow off your back and choose not to get into a fight over it.” 

It can be hard to deal with the stress of differing opinions surrounding your family members. In order to not get overwhelmed, Price says to talk to like-minded people as a break. 

“I would say to cope with that, make sure you’re taking care of yourself in other ways,” Price said. “Engaging with your friends, like-minded people, family members that you have that are like minded.” 

The holidays can be a hard time for many people. Hard conversations are present during this time, and the best way to navigate them is to set boundaries and be non-confrontational. 

If you have to experience these difficult conversations, and are not able to have them in a comfortable and productive manner, there are online options for professional mental health issues accessible to Berry students. Through the Counseling Center, students can access virtual counseling sessions through the Virtual Care Group, a service paid for by Berry. In order to utilize these resources, visit mdlive.com/ VCGTALK or text VCGTALK to 635483 to get access to the telehealth program. 

Posted by Campus Carrier

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