How to call out and back out of disingenuous political conversation
December 20, 2016 2:17 PM   Subscribe

I am looking forward to spending Christmas with my extended family, but dreading political conversations. I'd like a way to back out of any political conversation raised by relatives. I want to be crystal clear that I am not engaging anymore with disingenuous arguing.

For the most part, my relatives nice people who I love, and want to spend significant time with this holiday season. I am traveling cross-country to see them, and don't want to spend that time arguing about politics. Unfortunately, they can't stop bringing up political conversations and trying to persuade me (and the few others in the family who are vocally worried about the incoming administration) that we are hysterical/worried over nothing, that we don't understand some piece of the puzzle, or that they have "heard" differently than what we know to be true. The most generous interpretation of their approach is that it is condescending, but that ignores that most of their arguments are also objectively incorrect. They will not accept anything as fact that they do not already believe to be true, and they are not interested/able to discern reputable sources from nonsense.

I do not want to have these conversations. These relatives are not interested in genuinely engaging with me about my real and founded fears. I absolutely do not bring up my worries or political concerns with them at all- but they seem to feel compelled to bring it up to me and won't let it rest. I believe that the heart of this is that they actually would feel very bad if they accepted that their choice of president will hurt people, including those they love, so they are performing crazy mental gymnastics to try to convince me and themselves that it won't.

I feel that at this point, they are being disrespectful by continuing to raise these issues when we've already recognized that we do not agree and that none of us will be changing our minds. What can I say to stop these conversations in there tracks? I want to be firm, and I'm fed up enough that I don't want to just change the subject completely without acknowledging why I don't want to engage with them. I want them to hear that I don't want to have any more disingenuous conversations, that they don't listen to feelings or facts, and that it's not my job to absolve them of their choices. I don't want to open the doorway to arguing about whether I want to argue. Please give me scripts, suggestions, thoughts, etc to help me spend less time and frustration on this!
posted by whodatninja to Human Relations (27 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
I asked a question a months or so ago about avoiding Thanksgiving due to this same issue, which I did successfully. Great advice there. I didn't raise the issue of politics when I declined the information, but I did make sure my relatives knew that I loved them. So, while I don't have specific advice as to how to address this issue directly, I would start with "I love you all, but..."
posted by cnc at 2:25 PM on December 20, 2016


Just be direct the first time they bring it up:
"I don't want to talk about politics." Change the subject. Talk about weather! Sports! The new episode of radiolab! The thing you just learned about mantis shrimp! The interesting project at work! If they say "why not?" don't feel the need to explain. "I'm not interested in talking about politics." Then stop talking about it.

Then, if they bring it up again: "I don't want to talk about politics. If you continue bringing it up I'm going to have to leave."

And then if they bring it up again, just get up and leave the room. Go play phone games in the bathroom if you have to, or whatever. Come back in a little while. If they do it again, do it again. If they try to say you're the one being rude, don't argue with them, just say "I'm sorry you feel that way."

I also find that if someone says something I don't want to respond to, just say "okay." in a flat affect. It's really hard to argue with "okay."
posted by brainmouse at 2:26 PM on December 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


During our recent family gathering, the first time anything came up, my brother said, "Ah come on, let's not talk about politics." Was straightforward, didn't attack or put anyone down, didn't engage, didn't feel sensitive or emotional or aggressive, and in the end, this was easy to follow. I don't know if it will work for you but in the end we didn't talk about politics at all for a whole week. It was actually a nice break.
posted by vunder at 2:27 PM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


I brought an air horn to Thanksgiving dinner and told everyone "let's focus on the holiday and being together, no political jabs or debates please!" Anytime someone broke the rules I used the air horn. It got a lot of laughs and quickly changed the subject.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:29 PM on December 20, 2016 [39 favorites]


I failed miserably at this just this past weekend. The part of my strategy that failed most miserably was drinking to excess. The park I had hoped would work better was focusing on things beyond partisan politics that retrench privilege and noting how both parties support it to the detriment of society.

The specific example I was trying to work on was why mortgage interest deductions are a sub optimal tool since, in my opinion, (as the beneficiary of said policy) I don't see how getting a couple grand off my taxes is better than feeding hungry kids, housing people without homes, or taking better care of our vets. It was an attempt to illustrate that all government policies reflect a set of values and that both sides in this country have, for a really long time, supported policies which help those who have some stay ahead at the expense of those who have little/none who cannot get ahead.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 2:30 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


It rarely goes well to tell a group that you don't like the topic. It's off-putting to everyone who was presumably enjoying the topic. It's slightly rude to just say "don't talk about the thing that you're talking about". This applies to "shop talk" about work, sports talk, nerdy topics, school topics, exclusionary topics, whatever. Even if you stop them in their tracks, you then have an awkward/boring lull.

Ask yourself: among family, friends, have you ever seen anyone say announce that a topic is not good and have it work well?

What can work is changing to other topics, ideally with a decent pivot or segue.

You can't tell them they are being disingenuous in a polite way that will not hurt feelings, sorry.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:34 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I want to drill a little deeper than just a "Let's not talk politics," because that approach has not worked so far. I'd like something that more specifically conveys that I don't want them to keep bringing up the same few issues (issues that specifically and seriously affect me and some other members of our family), and telling us to stop worrying about it, that we are the ones that don't understand the issue, or that we are being crazy to think we are at risk (we are very much at specific risk). I want them to understand that that the reason I don't want to talk about it because they have already repeatedly tried to force the issue, they are not actually listening, and it is hurtful, so I'd like them to leave it to rest.
posted by whodatninja at 2:39 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


You can try something like, "I don't want to discuss this with you. I love you, and I don't want to argue with you. You know I find this subject distressing right now, and I hope that you don't want to keep causing me distress."

But, you know, if they are already ignoring/dismissing your feelings over the subject itself, I'm not sure why they would respect your feelings of not wanting to discuss the subject. Good luck.
posted by rtha at 2:42 PM on December 20, 2016 [24 favorites]


I go with "I guess we'll just have to wait and see who's right on this one" then change the topi
posted by fshgrl at 2:44 PM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


I want them to understand that that the reason I don't want to talk about it because they have already repeatedly tried to force the issue, they are not actually listening, and it is hurtful,

Something like "Has something happened to make you feel like you were wrong last time we talked, or are you leaning towards changing your mind and want me to help you figure something out? Because otherwise there's no point covering the same topic again".
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:45 PM on December 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


There's always "I can't discuss this with you because you are badgering me, being patronizing, and acting in bad faith".

You can avoid, you can redirect, but if you want to tell your family that they are acting badly towards you, there's just no way to do it nicely, you'll have to be prepared for the fallout, even, perhaps *especially* if you're right.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:46 PM on December 20, 2016 [11 favorites]


I find being really up front works best.

"I don't want to talk about it because you have already repeatedly tried to force the issue, you are not actually listening, and it is hurtful, so I'd like you to leave it to rest."

If you need to add something else, "I love you, and I'd be really sad if I felt like I couldn't spend time with you for the next four years. In the spirit of not making me feel super sad this holidays, can we please not talk about this any more."
posted by instamatic at 2:48 PM on December 20, 2016 [17 favorites]


I think that more important than any script is for you to challenge your assumptions here. Being disingenuous is something that people do on purpose. It's true that they disagree with you, but do you really think that they are purposely ignoring "feelings and facts" (as opposed to just privileging their own feelings and own versions of the facts over yours... I mean the latter isn't necessarily better, but there is a difference).

A loving interpretation of their actions might be that they really truly believe that things won't be so bad, and they don't want to see you in distress over nothing. That doesn't make them right, but it also doesn't make them disingenuous. To put yourself in their shoes, consider how the NRA types freak out over anything that seems like perhaps the government might be keeping a registry of gun owners. You and I both know that no American government is ever going to raid the houses of law-abiding citizens and take their guns. But they live their lives in terror of it every day. Now, imagine that one of your loved ones was one of those types (maybe you don't have to imagine, I know I don't). You see them spending emotional and financial resources to defend against a reality that you know will never ever come to pass. You see them actively fighting against a positive development (a working federal gun registry/background check system in our case, maybe corporate tax cuts and religious freedom in your family's case) Would you really not try to talk them out of it? Just to know that you tried? Would you be being disingenuous when you did so?

Anyways, in my version of these conversations, I just point out how useless the conversation is once, attempt to change the subject, and then actively ignore any attempts to bring the subject back, either by not participating in the conversation at all, or if something is being directed to me, cutting the speaker off. This is how I usually start:

"It's obvious that you won't be able to change my mind and that I won't be able to change yours, so I'd rather not go down this road again. [What did you think of my cranberry relish? I tried a new recipe! | How is little Timmy doing in school these days? | other subject change]"

Then if it gets directed to me, I'll just start interrupting. Usually the cutting off is rude enough to jolt people out of it, and having a good subject to segue to helps other people who don't want to polifight jump in to the conversation. If it gets bad enough, I'd find a task that immediately needs doing: "Here, let me get your plates!" "Anyone want more eggnog?" and stand up and walk away.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:03 PM on December 20, 2016 [7 favorites]


"Thanks for your concern and not wanting me to worry. Maybe you're right - we'll see! I wonder if it's going to snow this weekend..."
posted by destructive cactus at 3:18 PM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think the problem is, you want a conversation where you get to tell them how you feel about what you think about them, but also one where they aren't going to argue with you. However, any time you say something that implies your perception of them is truer than their perceptions of themselves, there's nothing you can say to prevent that from being a fight, they can't let it stand.

I think the best way is probably saying, "When you talk about that at all, it makes me sad. Please don't make me sad by talking about this with me."
posted by corb at 3:30 PM on December 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


I'd think carefully about what you can say that is indisputable. You may not convince them not to have "disingenuous conversations," since I doubt that they'd agree with that characterization, for instance. Likewise, if you say they are "being disrespectful" or "performing crazy mental gymnastics," you're back in No I'm Not Land.

You might try staying indisputable facts, then giving feelings or wishes, like "you have repeatedly tried to convince me. I'd like for you to recognize that I have a different view here. That would feel more respectful to me than what's happening now." Then just repeat that, "it feels disrespectful that you keep trying to change my mind." Good luck.
posted by salvia at 3:42 PM on December 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


"I am not interested in talking about politics. We're not going to see eye to eye. I have informed and legitimate reasons for being terrified of the incoming administration, but you prefer to gaslight me about being 'hysterical' instead of actually listening and treating me with empathy, so I'm done discussing it with you. If you won't respect my boundaries, I'm leaving. Now, let's talk about something else."
posted by ElizaDolots at 4:52 PM on December 20, 2016 [13 favorites]


I want them to understand that that the reason I don't want to talk about it because they have already repeatedly tried to force the issue, they are not actually listening, and it is hurtful, so I'd like them to leave it to rest.

"We've discussed this a lot in the past, and I don't feel our political discussions have been successful. Please respect my desire to have a peaceful holiday and focus on the things we have in common."

(For me success in this context would mean mutual respect, everyone listening and everyone being heard, thoughtful and honest conversation).

I'm a big fan of walking away when I need to. Whether that's moving from one group at a party to another, briefly leaving the dinner table to get some ice for my drink or go to the restroom or whatever, or taking a step outside. Doesn't have to be dramatic, it just gives me a chance to breathe and refocus and come up with another subject to introduce.
posted by bunderful at 5:08 PM on December 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm inclined to recommend taking the passive aggressive route here. Whatever the reasons, your relatives want a reaction from you whether it's positive or negative, so just don't give them one at all. As soon as someone starts haranguing about Trump, summon your best neutral-yet-vaguely-polite expression. Stare slightly into space and give minimal verbal and physical feedback. Immediately jump on top of any opportunity to change the topic, join or start a conversation with other people, or do something in another room. The point isn't to be rude, it's to make talking to you about Trump more boring than conversing with a brick wall.

If someone presses the issue, take the Bartleby approach and say that you'd prefer not to. They know why, and focusing on that just becomes another way of picking at the issue. Relentlessly pursue any and all neutral topics with enthusiasm to discourage any attempts to change the subject to politics.
posted by fox problems at 5:16 PM on December 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'd like something that more specifically conveys that I don't want them to keep bringing up the same few issues (issues that specifically and seriously affect me and some other members of our family), and telling us to stop worrying about it, that we are the ones that don't understand the issue, or that we are being crazy to think we are at risk (we are very much at specific risk). I want them to understand that that the reason I don't want to talk about it because they have already repeatedly tried to force the issue, they are not actually listening, and it is hurtful, so I'd like them to leave it to rest.

"stop gaslighting me" might work if you explain to them the details of that particular tactic of serial abusers.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:25 PM on December 20, 2016


What is your primary goal, to not have difficult conversations or to make them see that they're being difficult?

If it's to not have the conversations, I'd go with something like "I love you all, but I can't discuss this without getting upset. Please let's just enjoy the holiday together." If they persist, get up and leave for a few minutes. Repeat as necessary.
posted by rpfields at 5:47 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think you should say "Let's have this conversation in four years."
posted by gt2 at 6:10 PM on December 20, 2016 [14 favorites]


A similar issue came up on a group for trans people I belong to, and I advised that person to say "you're hurting my feelings" to anything they said on the topic. Anyone who persists after that does not need any of your attention or consideration. It's painful as hell for you because they probably won't stop. But they need to face consequences for their actions, and you need to know where you stand.
posted by AFABulous at 6:16 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


What I say (that only sometimes works) is that these are very serious issues facing our country and they need thoughtful and careful discussions, the kind that Abraham Lincoln or William F. Buckley or even Ronald Regan might have. However, what we have for the most part is superficial and emotionally charged character attacks and finger pointing, which I refuse to participate in. I then wait to see if they think themselves qualified to engage in that level of discourse, or claim that rational discourse is no longer required. FWIW.
posted by forthright at 6:52 PM on December 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've been able to end all potential political debates with, "You're probably right." My relatives want to convince me they're right, so if I appear to agree, there's no place to go.
posted by Linnee at 8:00 PM on December 20, 2016


I don't feel like changing the subject or being flippant will work, and honestly it feels kind of avoidant/passive-aggressive. You're going to be with these people for days presumably. I think you need to be able to say what you really think, directly and honestly.

You already have the words: you used them in your question. So I would just say that. Something like "I really don't want to have these conversations. We've had them before and they make me feel tired and unhappy. I know that you want to persuade me not to worry, but I am worried, and I believe I'm right to be. I'm entitled to my opinions and to my feelings about this. I love you and I crossed the country to see you and I want to spend this time with you, but I don't want to talk about politics. When you keep trying to talk about it, even after I ask you not to, it makes me feel like you're not listening to me and you don't respect me. Please stop trying to force this; I want us to be able to enjoy our time together."
posted by Susan PG at 12:57 AM on December 21, 2016 [16 favorites]


I think Susan PG has the best wording-saying things like "respecting boundaries" and "acting in bad faith" are only good for communities like metafilter, where there's a pre-determined level of emotional intelligence and discourse. Talking to willfully-ignorant trump supporters like this will most likely get you a bunch of side-eyes, and just enforce their opinion that you're over reacting.

Plain language, frankly. "We've talked about this before and I don't want to talk about it anymore. You're not going to convince me, I have good reasons for being this this way. We just disagree. I'm okay with that, and you should be too."
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:51 AM on December 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


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