Sense & Sensitivity

Reader Upset When Discussion Turns Political

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have married into a kooky family. For the most part, we all get along well. We do not share the same political views, though. In the past few years, things have gotten contentious from time to time, with some family members falling hard on the right and others falling equally hard on the left. There seems to be no middle ground.

At Thanksgiving, things got kind of heated when a big discussion started about the sexual assault allegations against so many powerful men. Like clockwork, people took sides. It was upsetting to see that politics seemed more important than these real issues of women -- and sometimes men -- being victimized by these men. I got so upset. We weren’t able to talk about the nuances of the issue because family members instantly sided with whoever they felt represented their general interests rather than the glaring issue in front of us.

How can I encourage us to talk openly and honestly about such an important topic without having the response be that people just toe the so-called party line? I think this is an important topic that we should try to address -- especially since we all have teenage children. -- Learning to Talk, Memphis, Tennessee

DEAR LEARNING TO TALK: Start with your immediate family, particularly your children. Ask your teenagers what they think is appropriate behavior and what crosses the line. Encourage them to talk about their fears and concerns about how people approach them. Get them to express their thoughts openly so that you can support them in learning how to walk away from inappropriate behavior. Tell them they can always tell you the truth and you will support them.

In terms of the rest of your family, suggest the same thing. Rather than getting caught up in what other people have done, suggest that they talk to their own children about how to protect themselves from sexual predators. This issue is vital to your children’s safety. Ask the adults to take a step back from their political beliefs and think about their children. That should help clear the path to meaningful conversation.

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