5 Rules for Talking OWS With Your Conservative Relatives

Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily.

Many of us will be visiting with family over the coming holidays, starting this Thanksgiving. How can someone who supports the Occupy movement have a civil conversation with family members who may have a different view of things? How can you be prepared if someone else brings up the topic? I’d like to start the ideas flowing on this with a few thoughts here.

For such a discussion it’s vitally important to set realistic goals about what you want to accomplish. It’s probably impossible to change someone’s mind with a short conversation about facts if they have strong emotions about their beliefs. Don’t even try, this is not about winning debate points awarded by some imaginary judge. What is it about then? I’ll address that later.

Here’s some specific suggestions on what to do and what to avoid doing.

First, DO NOT bring up Obama, Republicans, Democrats, FOX news, or the Super-committee. These are hot button emotional issues that will distract from the issue. Refuse to take the bait if someone else brings them up.

Second, don’t bore people by quoting facts, they won’t change any opinions. Rather than lecturing, try doing much more listening. Ask for their honest opinion and then listen to it carefully without criticism. People feel a strong need to be heard, and become more open when that need is met.

Third, gently disagree with any unfair stereotyping of the entire movement. For example, “… actually I think only a very small minority of the Occupy movement wants all debts to be absolved. Most of the people I talked to don’t really think that’s a good approach”. You can address the most common “they should all get a job” remark with “…a surprisingly large portion of the people I meet at the Occupy events already do have jobs, they show up at the Occupy events in the evenings and on weekends”

Fourth, and perhaps most important, look for common ground in the discussion. Don’t give into the need to argue with everything you disagree with, just let some things pass and instead try to focus on finding areas where there is some emotional commonality. Examples include frustration with the big bank bailouts, and hard working middle class families doing everything they can just to tread water and not fall even further into debt. If you have any personal experiences with someone struggling with unemployment, sharing sympathy for their situation can change the tone of the conversation.

Remember, the goal isn’t to score winning debate points here. If you have relatives who demonize the Occupy movement, perhaps the most important thing you can do is to help humanize the people involved, and get them to see that they might have some common ground with some of their concerns if not their methods. In the process, you may get a much better understanding of concerns and fears of your family members, and they may get to understand yours, even if there is no agreement reached over them. This process can be part of a very rewarding experience that brings everyone a little closer together, which is certainly a very worthy aim for the holidays.

What other suggestions do you have?

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