Commentary: Rebuilding Civility


With the chill in the air and the leaves already falling, the holidays are just around the corner. Whether you’re hosting or being hosted, the old rule of not discussing religion, money, or politics serves as a reminder of the issues which can divide even those who love each other the most. But in an era where everything, from ice cream to music, is politicized, avoiding political topics in conversation with those of differing views becomes almost impossible. Is this overly divisive and ever-present political tension healthy for society?

If the idea of wading into a political subject with friends or family with whom you disagree gives you a sinking feeling of dread during the most wonderful time of the year, you’re not alone. According to a Pew Research Study, 59 percent of Americans find discussing politics with those who share different views of the Trump Administration stressful or anxiety-inducing. Among individuals leaning to the left, only 28 percent find that discussing politics with those leaning to the right can be interesting and informative.

This divisive picture is darkened by the fact that nearly one in four Americans feel that their relationships with friends, family, or co-workers have been strained by voting for opposing candidates. Unsurprisingly, these feelings of relational division only increase with greater partisanship or deeper ideological commitment, as nearly half of all strongly-identifying liberal Democrats feel their relationships with Trump voters have been weakened by the last presidential election.

With the polarization of the 2018 midterm elections, who knows how much worse these measurements will look just in time for your Christmas dinner?

Keep in mind, though, that these percentages are more than just ivory-tower analysis and have a greater effect than making your holiday gathering more uncomfortable than usual. These numbers, which capture the inescapable feelings that come along with living in America today, illustrate that political divisions are eroding the important social institutions which hold society together. Family, friends, and community organizations form the basis of a peaceful civil society. If these intimate relationships are torn apart by politics, is there anything that isn’t in the line of fire in the battle of red versus blue?

In the wake of increasing political violence over the past few years – ranging from bipartisan acts of domestic terrorism to radical riots in cities and towns across America – the time for trying to heal these political divisions is long overdue. The best time to start on this journey towards reconciliation is at the holiday table with those you love.

Although the state of America might not be the merriest thing to discuss this holiday, shutting down the lines of communication deepens the polarization which is driving a wedge between a once united people. While political conversations can be unpleasant – ranging from mildly awkward to absolutely agonizing – the best place to start a meaningful dialogue is within your own circle. If you want to make a change within society, the best place to start is within yourself.

This does not mean setting out to win an argument. This does not mean trying to change someone’s mind. Rather, engaging in a respectful dialogue and learning from the perspectives of others just as much as sharing your own is a way to strengthen a relationship and to foster a mutual understanding. Laying the foundation necessary to rebuild civility in American political discourse can only happen one brick at a time.

A conversation at a holiday celebration won’t solve the significant policy issues which divide us. Even the magical spirit of this time of year can’t mend the brokenness of our country overnight. Despite this, applying the holiday season’s themes of love, charity, and kindness to our individual political engagement, especially when addressing individuals of differing views, is a step in the right direction.

Editor’s note: Gabrielle Etzel is a political science and economics major at Grove City College. After graduation, Gabrielle intends to continue her study in public policy at the graduate level with the hopes of developing a career in influencing culture and policymaking. She is the secretary of the Grove City College Martial Arts Club and writes for her own political commentary blog, The Unvarnished Blog.

The Center for Vision & Values 100 Campus Drive Grove City College Grove City, PA 16127 United States

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