It’s an incredibly tough situation: having a difference of opinion on a political or social issue with a family member.
And it’s more common than you think; even celebrities have conflicting stances on serious matters with their loved ones.
Case in point: Angelina Jolie took to Instagram in late October to voice her views over the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
“What happened in Israel is an act of terror. But that cannot justify the innocent lives lost in bombing a civilian population in Gaza that has nowhere to go, no access to food or water, no possibility of evacuation, and not even the basic human right to cross a border to seek refuge,” the actress and humanitarian wrote.
“Humanity demands an immediate ceasefire. Palestinian and Israeli lives – and the lives of all people globally – matter equally,” she added.
Then, only days later, on November 4, Angelina’s father Jon Voight publicly condemned her in a video posted to X (formerly called Twitter).
“I am very disappointed that my daughter, like so many, has no understanding of God’s honour, God’s truths,” Jon said.
“This is about destroying the history of God’s land – the Holy Land – the land of the Jews. This is justice for God’s children of the holy land. Israel, the Israeli army must protect thy soil, thy people.
“This is war. It’s not going to be what the left thinks, it can’t be civil now,” he continued, proving he has a vastly different opinion to Angelina when it comes to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
Obviously, when us mere mortals – who aren’t Oscar-winning actors – have a discussion about politics with a family member, it’s not so public; it’s done behind closed doors.
But even so, those conversations can be tricky without knowing how best to navigate having a difference of opinion… And so, The Weekly spoke to clinical psychologist and relationship expert Dr Aileen Alegado and psychotherapist Karen Phillip to shed some light on the common problem.
How do you handle differences of opinion?
“Whether we want to admit it or not, there will come a time that we will at some point have varying perspectives and opinions to others because it’s what makes us uniquely human,” Aileen says.
“Leading with respect and empathy should always be the stance when talking about political or social issues with loved ones,” she recommends.
Similarly, Karen advises, “Dealing with different views in any relationship, whether it’s a romantic relationship or a parent-child relationship, requires patience, empathy, and a commitment to maintaining a healthy connection.
“Ultimately, the goal is to navigate these differences in a way that strengthens the relationship and fosters mutual respect.”
Should you avoid discussing politics with family?
Both Aileen and Karen agree that you shouldn’t always just avoid certain topics with a partner or family member just because you have a difference of opinion.
“I think if topics are discussed with a general curiosity and lack of judgment, we can face difficult conversations rather than avoid it,” Aileen says.
“Engaging in respectful conversations about political or social issues can lead to greater mutual understanding and strengthen relationships… It’s not necessary to avoid the subject entirely,” Karen adds.
Of course, there’s an exception to every rule, and if you seem to argue regularly over certain topics, then it is best to steer clear of them.
“If conflict and rupture appears to be the pattern when disagreement occurs in your relationships/family then it might be wise to avoid them if you can to reduce any unnecessary stress – especially at special occasions or family events,” Aileen suggests.
What’s the best way to diffuse a heated discussion?
Sometimes a heated discussion is inevitable when talking to a family member who holds opposing views to you.
But it’s important to diffuse the situation. Karen’s top tips to do so include:
- “Take deep breaths and try to remain composed.
- Acknowledge the other person’s emotions by saying, ‘Thank you, for allowing me to know how you feel about this.’
- Express your perspective using ‘I’ statements, focusing on your feelings and thoughts rather than making accusatory ‘you’ statements. For example, say, ‘I feel’ instead of ‘You always…’
- Establish ground rules for the conversation, such as taking turns speaking, avoiding personal attacks, and using respectful language.
- If you realise you’ve said something offensive or inappropriate, apologise sincerely. It shows maturity and can de-escalate the situation.”
Ultimately, if you have a conflicting view with someone – whether it be with a partner, a parent, a sibling, or a child – you’re not alone and it is manageable.
“The more open minded and flexible we are, the better we can accept differences in opinions. Looking at these conversations not in a ‘win/lose’, ‘right/wrong’ way but rather a chance to get to know someone in a deeper way and be closer to them through similarities and/or differences,” Aileen says.
“We are not all the same and that should be celebrated; so rather it is shifting your mindset to a pace of acceptance, rather than a ‘it’s my way or the highway’ attitude.”