“This is America! All lives matter!” my stepdad screamed, dismissing the injustices that people of color face on a daily basis.
My cheeks immediately flushed with rage and my fists instinctively clenched on the kitchen table. I was surprised by the vitriol of his comment—so much so that I froze. I wanted to yell, “What the fuck?” but knew that wouldn’t go over well with the rest of my family. Still, my anger and frustration threatened to boil over the surface.
I sat there, trying to decide whether I was angry enough to get into a blowout argument over why saying “all lives matter” is inherently and explicitly racist. Instead, opting not to ruin the day, I took a few deep breaths before swiftly changing the topic. Still, I silently cursed myself for not being strong enough, or passionate enough, or willing enough to start a conversation that would’ve caused my visit back home to devolve from joyous to combative. Yet when I went to sleep that night in my childhood bedroom, I wondered what I should’ve done, what would’ve felt right to me as someone who’s aware of the inequality that plagues society.
I always knew my stepdad was a Republican, but it wasn’t until recently that I discovered the extent of his loyalty. He hates Hillary Clinton with fervor, and supports Trump with equal fervor. He undermines the very real experiences of people of color. He’s said questionable things in the past that have prompted me to challenge his views until my mom, husband, and anyone else caught in the crossfire were uncomfortable and angry at both of us. But my stepdad, who I’ve known my entire life, has been a wonderful second father to me. He’s loving and thoughtful and generous—he just isn’t socially conscious in any sense.
I wanted to start a conversation with my stepdad, but feared risking our relationship and starting a never-ending ideological battle between us. This raises the question: How do you handle loved ones who disagree with you on issues that you don’t think are debatable, like #BlackLivesMatter? How do you share the same space as them without losing your mind—or worse, ruining your relationship? Here are seven handy tips:
1. Pick your battles
When talking to family members and friends with whom you still want to maintain a relationship, here’s the only way to ensure every interaction with them doesn’t escalate to yelling, insults, and leaving Thanksgiving dinner without pie: Pick your battles.
Determine the most important issues to you, do research, and approach your loved one in a calm and thoughtful manner—otherwise, you risk alienating and pushing them to more extreme views. Sure, you can start a heated conversation that may devolve into a rage-filled food fight (which actually sounds kinda fun—balls of mashed potatoes make good weapons), but it’s probably better to leave the debates to Walking Cheeto and Highly Qualified Woman Who Is Constantly Facing Sexist Attacks.
2. Talk about things you agree on (maybe you both believe the Kardashians are ruining America—bring that up!)
If you aren’t willing to have a difficult and honest conversation, the best thing to do is move it into neutral territory. Talk about the weather (riveting!), a baseball game (gruntsportsgrunt!), or what you’re having for dinner (God bestowed mortals with pizza to keep the peace). Anything works, as long as you steer conversation away from topics that’ll inspire you to jump across the table and strangle a person you love (underneath all of that strangling, of course).
3. Prepare before seeing them
If you have a tendency to shoot your mouth off when an unwoke loved one starts shooting theirs off, put an action plan into place before seeing them. Role play potential conversations with yourself or an understanding pal: Anticipate touchy subjects, and prepare appropriate responses to ease any possible tension. You can even send a cheat sheet of resources to family members and friends who want to learn more.
At the very least, meditate for five or 10 minutes before seeing loved ones that make you question humanity—or just get high. Then, when they start professing their love for the sentient Nerf Dart that is Trump, you can just laugh at them as they sit there puzzled, wondering why you’ve eaten an entire dinner plus two bowls of cereal and bag of Goldfish crackers.
4. Don't respond with anger or condescension
The worst way to respond is angrily or in a condescending tone. Sure, if you just want to prove how socially conscious you are, go ahead and speak down to the loved one in question—but that won’t change their mind. Instead, take the time to calmly explain your views; it might be corny, but there’s a way to approach tough topics with sincerity and openness. And frankly, if you can’t express yourself without resorting to insults, then maybe you shouldn’t be talking to anyone about controversial topics. Showing respect must be a priority—no matter how difficult it may be. Be the Switzerland of your family: Bring chocolate and cheese (leave knives out of it, though).
5. Determine how likely it is that they'll change their mind
Some people are a lost cause, so entrenched in their toxic beliefs that changing their mind is a remote possibility. If that’s the case—and you’ve come to this conclusion after careful consideration—time to either accept them despite their views or cut them out of your life. The latter is drastic, however, and could be something you regret later in life. Perhaps they won’t change right away, but it may eventually happen if you’re patient and open.
6. Engage in conversation only if you're willing to hear them out, too
Here’s arguably the most difficult part about engaging in an emotionally charged conversation with a loved one with whom you vehemently disagree: You should also be open to hearing their point-of-view. If you want them to hear you out, meet them halfway. Don’t forget: They’re just as certain of their views as you are. Actively and respectfully listen to their opinions, and use language that conveys that (e.g. “I respect where you’re coming from, but here’s my take; I’m interested in what you think about it.”) This is a far more sympathetic way to have a conversation if you’re truly interested in shifting someone’s perspective, especially if they’re close to you.
7. Assume the best of them
You love your family and friends. Assume they have good intentions and interact based on that assumption. Assuming they’re hateful never works out well because it’ll only make them defensive and closed-off. Most people don’t think of themselves as hateful—even if their views are bigoted. They believe their prejudice is correct and warranted, so helping your loved ones understand that these views hurt other people is a better strategy than lobbing insults.
Remember that life is hard, and they’re trying to survive in this crazy world, too. Think of your compassion towards them as a selfish act; sometimes that’s the only way to avoid losing your sanity and the ones you love.
And if all else fails, make peace for the pie.
Jamie Varon is a writer and designer living in Los Angeles.