Dealing with the differences: How to handle political polarization

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(WSYR-TV) — With the polarization of politics we’re seeing across the country, the topic is hard to avoid. But for those times it does come up with friends or family, what do you do?

Keith Bybee, a political professor and the Vice Dean of the University College of Law, has researched this topic extensively. When it comes to politics, Bybee said it comes down to one thing, civility.

“I think what’s important to realize about civility is it’s all a matter of display. It’s a matter of showing people respect. You don’t have to like everybody,” Bybee said.

The problem with that is many people have different ideas of what respectable behavior should look like. It all comes back to how you were raised, Bybee said.

We took this topic to Twitter, asking viewers if the presidential election has impacted their relationships, with different political views getting in the way. Many people said they avoid talking about it while others say, yes, it is.

One user commenting, “We don’t discuss it much, elections & politicians come and go but family is forever.”

But what if someone you consider family has different political views? We asked a marriage and family therapist about this, Karrigan Murphy.

Murphy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She also has her own practice, Ancora Marriage & Family Therapy P.C.

Murphy gave us the following advice for those situations.

  • Try to have conversations in person and not through text/social media where words can be misinterpreted.
  • The most productive discussions begin with a sense of curiosity. 
  • Remain mindful of the tone you’re using and what your body language is articulating.
  • Practice active listening/Stop thinking about what you’ll say next and just listen
  • Abandon the idea of “winning” during these discussions. The object is to listen and attempt to understand.
  • Practice calming techniques or take breaks during discussions.
  • Focus on “zooming out” during these conversations. For example, don’t focus on the president’s specific health care policies, but instead “zoom-out” to look at what basic ideas of health care each person believes are most beneficial and why.
  • Remember that maintaining a healthy, loving relationship should be much more of a priority than having matching political views.

According to the American Psychological Association, 68% of Americans say this election is causing them stress. Some tips for those people? They say focus on what you can control, stay active, and keep busy with things you enjoy.


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