(Rock Hill, S.C.) — With South Carolina’s primary out of the way and the November presidential election quickly approaching, politics has been a hot topic lately in many households.
Whether it was one of Tom Steyer’s numerous online ads prior to the primary or an uncle that brings it up the election in passing, it’s nearly impossible to escape the conversation of politics.
These discussions can be especially hard for students, considering college is a time when people are figuring out their political beliefs, which can mean turning away from the belief system one was brought up in.
“I think the stereotype is that a lot of people come to college and become more liberal,” said Dr. John Holder, political science professor at Winthrop University, who was a guest on the Palmetto Report podcast.
“What we’re trying to teach you to do in college is not to be more liberal, but to be more open-minded. We’re exposing you to things you haven’t heard before and ideas you haven’t heard about before.”
Sometimes those discoveries and realizations can cause clashes at home.
Emma Lindenberg, a sophomore sport management major at Winthrop, said she would rather avoids discussing politics with her family.
“I avoid it all of the time, because they have very different opinions than I do and they’re very closed-minded to things that are happening now,” Lindenberg said.
“They’re kind of just stuck in old ways of what their parents grew up thinking and they kind of just took onto that and haven’t applied new things that are coming out now,” she said.
“They dismiss me and then it’s kind of like a ‘oh, you’re young. You don’t understand this kind of thing.’ Or they’ll overly explain what they’re saying. I understand what they’re saying, but I just don’t agree so they’re very quick to tell me that I’m wrong.”
Often, political discussions with family can “dig up some bad feelings,” according to Laura Munson, a senior integrated marketing communications major.
“Sometimes we just are not in the mood to hear people say really gross things that are not fun to hear. If you’re having a family event of some sort, you don’t want to spoil it by getting into an argument. Sometimes you just want to ignore these things, because you can’t stop being someone’s family,” Munson said.
Holder recommends using civil discourse, as a way to respectfully communicate opposing ideas, when discussing politics.
“Civil discourse is people having an intelligent, reasonable, honest discussion with each other about civic needs, community problems, issues, that kind of thing. It’s just a way to communicate in a way that solves problems,” said Holder.
Katarina Moyon is the director for the John C. West Forum at Winthrop, which regularly hosts events and speakers to help educate students on the issues.
“Our focus is to…develop the next generation of political and civic leaders in the state. In order to do that, our main program goals are hosting speakers and events where students can learn about the issues of the day,” Moyon said.
Recently, the West Forum hosted civil discourse expert Dr. Tim Shaffer of Kansas State University.
Shaffer lectured on the subject on Feb. 17 and the following day he led a workshop for faculty, in order to teach them how to encourage civil discourse in the classroom.
One such course at Winthrop that is designed for civil discourse is the Human Experience (or HMXP), which Moyon is also the co-director of.
HMXP, which is a required class for all Winthrop undergraduates, was created to challenge students’ beliefs and get them to discuss why they hold the values they do.
“We spend a lot of time with that course thinking about how we’re going to help students hold civil discourse in the classroom,” Moyon said.
“You’re never going to change anyone’s mind, ever, under any circumstances. You’re just not. You just might as well forget that,” she said, concerning political discussions with family.
Moyon said in order to have a successful discussion with someone of differing opinions, one has to be prepared to listen.
“That doesn’t mean change your mind, it just means be prepared to listen. Especially with family, we might already think we know what the person’s going to say, so I’ll just ignore that and think about my response right away,” said Moyon.
“The only thing that you can actually control is that maybe you learn something from this conversation and not change your mind. You can at least start to understand the perspective of someone else.”
Holder said the characteristics of successful discussions and debates include proving one’s point “on the merits of the issue and not by attacking your opponent.”
“Be respectful. Make your point. Show that you respect their values but here’s why you disagree with them. It’s possible to have an intelligent, reasonable discussion with somebody you disagree with without…people ending up yelling at each other,” Holder said.
“Stand your ground. Don’t go tell your grandparents or parents that everything they were brought up to believe is BS. Here’s what I learned, here’s why this changed my opinion, here’s what I think and I love you anyway, grandpa.”