Listen and learn: Talking to conservative parents

A student shares her experience talking about politics with her conservative family.

On May 27, I took a deep breath and tucked my hair behind my ears, going through the motions of my calm-the-hell-down process. 

I stared at our TV and watched as the street I used to walk up every week for work was destroyed. On the corner of 18th street near Chestnut in Philadelphia, rioters flung stolen products out onto the street and paced up and down with only increasing fury. 

I listened as my dad first commented, not on the death of George Floyd, but on the shopkeepers and how horrible it was for them to lose their storefronts. 

I opened my mouth to argue, spoke out of unprepared anger and stormed out of the room. 

I could not believe I was watching the same turn of events on television as the two white middle-aged people next to me. 

During quarantine, I lived at home with my parents in Lancaster, Pennsylvania — a quaint and adorable place that seems to fade from red to blue the deeper you go into the city. But on the outskirts, where the pretty church bells ring and the suburbs blossom, you begin to see the name President Donald Trump. My parents live in the hypothetical purple: a territory where conservatives love God and love others, but also feel obligated to their original political party.

Both of my parents are loving, caring and kind people. They are adults who know their political preferences. I understand that it doesn’t matter what their liberal 22-year-old daughter thinks. I respect my parents, and I love them. They gave me as diverse of an upbringing as you can have in a Christian home, and have always pushed for me to do what I love. 

Both of my parents dislike Trump. They couldn’t bring themselves to vote for him in 2016 and refuse to vote for him this year. For that, I am thankful. The part I find difficult to comprehend is their loyalty to a particular party. 

Both of my parents have been conservative since their early adult years. They took my older sisters to a George H. W. Bush rally in 1992. They appeared on TV protesting abortion clinics in the late 1990s. Pro-life values play a large part in their political decisions, and although I may see the issue differently, I do respect my parents and always will. 

The more I’ve grown up and grown apart from their particular choices, the more I’ve reminded myself over and over again that they hold those for a reason, and that all I want to do is love them, listen to them and learn their perspectives, and that’s all they can do for me as well.

Political conversations during quarantine tended to get heated pretty quickly. I am a self-diagnosed angry arguer. I throw out blanket statements, I condemn the entire white church of America and I spew only hatred on our current presidential administration. My dad argues similarly, which is probably why we get on each other’s nerves and why the conversation’s volume increases within 30 seconds. 

I’m sure I’m not alone in these types of parental conversations. I’ve seen them broadcast on social media outlets like TikTok, Facebook and Twitter, and heard them from frustrated friends. 

These types of conversations are not helping a single person. They add fire to already burning pain, irritation and insecurity. 

The second a voice is raised, any hope for intelligent discussion is quenched. The goal of the conversation cannot be to change the person’s mind. That is not going to happen. 

The goal should be to listen. The goal should be to put oneself in the other person’s shoes, whether they be my dirty white Adidas or my dad’s shiny Dr. Martens, and to view the world from their perspective. Expecting an instant change in someone else’s worldview is honestly selfish. We don’t have that power, especially not with our voices raised. That power of change is within only that person themselves. And it is not up to anyone else to change that. 

My mom, after nearly 40 years of pledging Republican, left the party this summer. She realized there are parts to each party she agrees with, and to her the Republican Party had strayed too far from their base ideologies when Trump was elected. 

“I’m not ready yet to be a Democrat,” she told me. I told her that’s more than OK. 

She started a book club with women from her church to read about white privilege. Every Wednesday night this summer, I looked out the guest bedroom window and saw a small group of ladies sitting socially distanced in the backyard working to understand a new perspective. 

I think that’s all it takes. If we all had that same work ethic and attitude to try and understand each other, we’d be a lot farther in our political discourse. You have to throw away whether you think you’re right and the other person’s wrong because, to be honest, they are thinking the same thing about you. Assuming their minds will be blown by an argument is not realistic. 

I am learning to just listen and bite my tongue when anger rises in my throat. Respect, a receptive ear and zero expectations are the keys to these difficult conversations. 

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