How to talk about politics with your family

Talking politics with people who you disagree with is always tricky, but it’s especially hard when those people are your family or closest friends. All too often, problems arise because of how politeness (and impoliteness) operates in interactions.

Everything we do can be more or less polite; the way we move, the way we look at each other and, of course, the words we use. Being polite is not just about saying “please” and “thank you” – indeed, some ways of using these words can be impolite too.

Suppose somebody is swimming too fast for the slow lane in your local pool. There are more or less polite ways to ask them to move and it can be quite hard to know what will work best. A straightforward “you’re in the wrong lane” is less polite than “excuse me, I don’t know if you know about the lanes here. This one is for very slow swimmers.”

In some contexts, though, the more direct form will seem fine and the longer utterance could seem passive aggressive, or even rude. To get things right, you need to make the right assumptions about your relationship with the person you’re talking to.

Treat everybody like a stranger

We often don’t use markers of politeness when we say things to people we know well. At a family breakfast table, it can be fine simply to say “pass the salt”, without saying things like “excuse me”, “please” and “could you ..?” If a family member asks whether you’d like a cup of tea, it can be fine just to say “no” – but that…

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