Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer "radical empathy" and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.
In this week's episode, listeners ask what to do when political differences with family members turn downright hostile. Here, Bleeding Heart says a disagreement with her parents about Donald Trump has hurt the family's ability to communicate.
I'm a young millennial who was raised in a fairly conservative environment. I came into my liberal views pretty young, and they've only gotten stronger as I've entered the nonprofit legal aid world. Growing up, I saw my parents as measured and wise, even if I disagreed with them. My mom is pro-choice and they are pro-LGBT rights. My dad is on the board of an education nonprofit that serves inner-city youth.
However, this election has changed everything. My mom has become straight-up hostile. I try to avoid politics because I'm passionate as well, and it always ends with screaming. Unfortunately, she can turn every conversation into an aggressive political nightmare. I bring up a TV show, and it's about how Hillary has lied about everything. I mention how weird the weather is, and it's about how gullible I am to have faith in Bernie. When my co-workers joke that they don't know anyone who's voting for Trump, I become the token "friend whose parent is voting for Trump."
My patience is forever for my parents. I love them and will always adore them. However, I'm sad that my respect is waning. Aren't you always supposed to respect your parents? How can I divorce their views from my feelings for them when it's all my mom will talk about? How can I avoid her combative nature while having a serious discussion about politics? I used to feel comfortable sharing my views and beliefs, but now I bite my tongue constantly so I'm not ganged up on by the ones I love.
Steve Almond: It is sad. The real thing, to cut underneath the politics a little bit, is this is a young woman who really loves and adores and is loyal to her folks — and she's having to deal with the reality that she's losing esteem for them, she's losing respect for them. That's what the election brings out.
And my counsel, Bleeding Heart, is to the extent that it's possible, try to be a good listener and figure out — whether you view it as irrational or not — what's it about. What's the meaning of their having had this significant shift in the way they view the world and the solution to the world's problems, at least politically? When a figure like Trump becomes popular, it's because he's activating a whole bunch of different things within different sorts of voters. There are complicated motives.
So that's my first piece of advice for you, Bleeding Heart, is listen to your folks and try to understand why they have become so aligned with and in support of this guy. Recognize that this election has put your parents in a place you cannot find respect for, but maybe you can find understanding for it.
Cheryl Strayed: Yeah, see I think that's good advice and yet it's not the advice that I'm going to give. My read of the situation is that she's tried to do that and that her parents aren't interested in listening. And in fact what happens is they have a screaming match when this happens — they're both passionate about their candidates and their beliefs.
I think the thing that will probably be the most constructive and protective of your relationship is to say to your parents, "I love you and we obviously don't agree politically right now. So let us, through this very heightened season of the election, just not talk about politics."
There's a reason for that old adage that you don't talk about religion or politics. You know, those are two areas of life that people feel very passionately about. Many people, they don't feel that their identity is even separate from their religious beliefs or their political values. I certainly feel that way about my own political values. And I don't enjoy arguing with people; I don't want to persuade anyone to agree with me nor do I want to be persuaded.
You are not going to convince your parents, Bleeding Heart, to vote for anyone but who they want to vote for. And the same is true, they are not going to convince you to vote for Trump. So give it up, that is my advice. Sometimes silence is really the most loving solution.
Steve Almond: I agree with that. What I want to say, though, is there's something powerful in you saying, "I used to feel comfortable sharing my views and beliefs." And I think it's the part of you that connects to your parents, who even in this conservative environment were pro-choice, supportive of gay rights, doing good work in education. And at the center of this — and this happens oftentimes when the political becomes personal — is a kind of mourning of a loss. There's some part of you that's saying, what happened to those parents?
I hope somehow you can hang on to some way of connecting to them that does involve some sort of shared values. But it may be that it's not this election season that that's going to happen. And then you have to just make your peace with that.
You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. This week, Steve and Cheryl further consider this letter from Bleeding Heart, and talk to a letter writer whose political differences with her family have been even more divisive — she hasn't spoken to her uncle in eight years, after an incident at Christmas dinner that may be uncomfortably familiar for many listeners.