The holidays are upon us. Families and friends come together around our holiday tables, some vowing to themselves once again to not ruin the occasion with explosive political discussions.

We urge you to be aware that while you might become enmeshed in a divisive discourse, take heed that there may be others at the table who have gone the extra mile to create a memorable get together. Don’t make it memorable for the wrong reasons.

We recently attended an informative short workshop where those of us on opposite sides of various political issues got to actually practice conversing with one another in a respectful, civil manner.

There were no loud voices, slammed fists, name calling or hurt feelings but just conversation and the opportunity to listen and hear another point of view and understand more about the experiences or values that brought that person to think differently than we did.

Here are some things we learned to help us better listen and understand another’s viewpoint:

Tone and body language give nuance to what is being said. Be polite. Look into the other’s eyes.

Be curious and respectful.

Ask: What life experiences have influenced your view? Why do you believe that?

Maybe respond with, “I never thought of it like that,” or “That must have been an interesting experience,” or “My experience has been a bit different.”

Forget using facts to bolster your opinion unless you are willing to agree to disagree. Facts are ubiquitous but unless you want to play Search Google to prove yourself right, don’t play the fact game.

Even then, sources of facts can be suspect. And don’t roll your eyes or pfft at a differing viewpoint. Maybe take a silent deep breath or invisibly bite your tongue.

Ask open-ended questions, then really listen well enough that you will be able to repeat what your counterpart has said in your own words, e.g. “If I’m understanding you correctly, you think … because …”

Finally, try to find common ground, e.g. most of us want peace, safe places for children, a healthy environment, decent wages, access to affordable health care – the big question is HOW we get there.

Local resident and writer Jim Hight facilitated these practical exercises for conservatives and liberals and others in between (after all, most of us aren’t 100 percent in agreement with any party or organization) to help us get through the holidays and beyond. We are working with him to possibly do this for a larger audience so stay tuned.

Karen Dils

Bea Harnish

From opposite political sides in and around Buena Vista

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