Erin Whidden: Dealing With Liberal Relatives

    I’m sure many of us have one. That aunt, cousin, or grandparent that likes to make it known that they are a liberal. Though my family is very conservative, there are a few democrats sprinkled into the mix. I can get along with all of them except for one in particular, who I see much more often than the few other liberal members of my family.

    One of my cousins is a very proud Bernie fan, environmentalist, and atheist. This sets him apart from my traditionally southern, Christian family. It was never a problem for me until one occasion last summer, when an innocent game of Apples to Apples at a family get together turned into a somewhat heated political discussion.

    Although I can’t remember exactly how this event unfolded, I’ll do my best to retell it as it happened. The adjective card was something negative, and whatever it was inclined me to put down a card that was labeled “Carl Sagan” (for those of you who have never played Apples to Apples, the players all have a set number of cards with nouns  on them and have to pick one that best fits another card that has an adjective on it, and then whoever is the judge picks the winner). I’m not sure if this cousin that I’m talking about was the judge this round or not, but he asked, “Who put down Carl Sagan?”

    I admitted to putting the card down without hesitation, despite his obvious shock over it. Before I go any further, I should probably explain that Carl Sagan was a scientist who Al Gore, the poster child for global warming fanatics, claims to have been influenced by. I don’t know anything about Sagan’s political stance, but I’m well aware of Gore’s. Because of this, I chose the Carl Sagan card to best fit the negative description that the adjective card was asking for. I explained this to my cousin and that I had learned about Sagan’s influence on Gore from having had to read and watch Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, which is nothing more than a scientifically inaccurate and easily debunked scare tactic used to push the idea of global warming.

    Once the card game ended and we started eating, I thought that was the end of it. I then noticed, however, that my cousin seemed to be busying himself on his phone. As soon as he opened his mouth, I realized that he had just looked up what An Inconvenient Truth is, and that he was now prepared to call me out for being what some people call a “climate change skeptic”. Thus, an argument ensued and pretty much ruined the usually light-hearted and pleasant atmosphere of the “kid’s table” (even though we are all old enough to drive now) on the back deck.

    This discussion became more and more heated, so I decided the best thing to do was just end it as quickly as possible. Ever since that occasion, my cousin has started to bring up political and social issues any chance he gets. He also targets me specifically out of my siblings and other cousins, who are all also conservatives, simply because I am the most politically involved and outspoken. This has created an obvious tension between us. My cousin and I are both political science majors, we are both strongly opinionated, and we are both very stubborn. These similarities, paired with he and I being at opposite ends of the political spectrum, are bound to lead to heated arguments between us rather than civil conversations, and I don’t think it is appropriate to have a heated argument around the family supper table. Anytime he tries to start, I try my best to entirely avoid the conversation and just change the subject.

    Because of my raising, I believe that it is both impolite and uncalled for to get into an argument at the table, and I find it very inappropriate and childish of my cousin to constantly try to provoke me into doing such. The family supper table is simply not the time or place for that. It would be one thing if we could speak about politics in a civil manner, and if these conversations could take place privately, but I doubt that we could ever have a calm political discussion with the personality traits that we both share. As much as I want to strangle him sometimes (like when I witnessed him sit down during the National Anthem in the presence of my Veteran father), he is my cousin, and I don’t think my family would appreciate it too much if did that.

    I think the best way to handle differing political opinions among family members is to just avoid those conversations altogether. In my experience, partaking in them is a waste of energy and very uncomfortable for everyone else. It can ruin relationships. Family is very important to me, so I want to be able to get along with all of my relatives regardless of what differences we may have. My cousin and I may be total opposites politically, but he is still my cousin. As much as I love proving my points and expressing my opinions to all who will listen, having a good relationship with my loved one is far more important to me.