Political but not on the holidays

Maureen Brooks, left, Deanna Brooks and Barb Lemmon regularly hold signs about child separations in immigration at La Cañada Drive and Esperanza Boulevard. While they are not shy about voicing their political beliefs, they say holidays are a time to focus on each other and not debates.

Politics aren't going to bother these three Green Valley residents this holiday season, but it doesn't mean people from across the country aren't prepping for battle over turkey and stuffing. 

Barb Lemmon, Deanna Brooks and Maureen Brooks don't see the growing national political divide as something that will ruin their holidays. Deanna intends to spend the holidays with her church, and rather than discussing politics they will be focusing on each other, she said.

"My family is basically my friends in Green Valley now," she said. They don't avoid politics because her church tends to lean the same way on many issues.

"It's just why would you talk politics on Thanksgiving? It's a day to talk football and to have memories of past Thanksgivings and eating too much," she said "Those are good memories. The holidays are another time for family memories as opposed to family conflict."

But family conflict might be unavoidable for a lot of people.

What we're thinking

A September survey by Pew Research Center found 55 percent of Republicans and 47 percent of Democrats viewed the other as more immoral. The two groups were nearly even when it came to describing each other as too extreme in their positions – 63 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Democrats.

Pew also found Republicans more likely to consider Democrats unpatriotic and lazy. Democrats were more likely to consider Republicans unintelligent and close-minded. Pew also found 73 percent of Republicans and Democrats said they couldn't agree on even basic facts.

That's not a good starting point when a politics-loving uncle inevitably brings up a juicy headline at the dinner table.

Maureen understands that when it comes to talking with other people who have different viewpoints it can be difficult to communicate while keeping it civil.

"I'm perfectly willing to have a dialogue with people who don't agree with me, but it's very difficult to do if they're adamant and not listening," she said. "And I have to listen, too. It certainly goes both ways. But there's such divisiveness that it makes it difficult for people to listen to the other side."

There appears to be a measurable effect as well.

A 2018 study by the journal Science found that Thanksgiving dinner was 30 to 50 minutes shorter when people from opposing parties were looking at each other across the table. The study used GPS data to track people traveling from a precinct dominated by one party to a precinct dominated by another to have Thanksgiving dinner weeks after the 2016  election. 

  The study found dinner was even shorter in areas where there was more political advertising – 2.6 minutes shorter per 1,000 ads. Some swing states had more than 26,000 ads throughout the 2016 campaign, which implied a 69-minute reduction in time spent together, according to the study.

Combating polarization

Maureen Brooks looks forward to the holidays surrounded by friends with like-minded viewpoints, but for many others that isn't the case, she said.

"There are a lot of people who have strains in their family and they can't talk about politics because it's so off-putting," she said. "And it's really sad, it's just a sad situation. I can't bear it."

If you need some help, the Joyner-Green Valley Library will host Better Angels on Nov. 20. Better Angels is a non-profit group that holds workshops around the country on building conversation skills when confronted by political divisions. Nirvair Khalsa is a coordinator for the group in Southern Arizona.

"There is divisiveness in families, and sometimes those holiday gatherings can become a problem if politics get in the way of relationships," Khalsa said.

Better Angels tries to help people keep the focus on their relationships and not let politics get in the way, she said. But even Khalsa knows first-hand how politics can affect the family.

"I have family members that either didn't want to talk about politics or talk to each other at all," she said. "I've seen it, and I imagine there are others that have seen it as well."

Do's and Don'ts

Khalsa said the workshop is about helping people learn to listen to one another while genuinely focusing on their relationships. But she has some advice for the holidays. 

Avoid talking about politics in groups, especially at the dinner table; instead, do it one-on-one before or after the meal, she said. And while Khalsa said a personal conversation is OK, it should remain respectful and not interfere with other people enjoying the holiday.

It's a sentiment that resonates with Lemmon. She said while it's getting more difficult to talk politics and remain civil, respectfully listening to other viewpoints can keep tempers in check.

"I am not one that's good at thinking of the right thing to say at the right time, but the most important thing to me is to try and listen to the other person and understand where they're coming from," she said. "Sometimes, you just have to listen and then disagree, but not as an argument."

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732

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