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How To Repair Relationships Damaged By Election Divisions


This year has been a time of frayed nerves, raw feelings - often within families, sometimes between friends. With the election nearly past us, the pandemic very much with us and holidays ahead, can we begin to mend those relationships? Amy Dickinson, the Amy behind Ask Amy may have some practical ideas.

Amy, thanks for being back with us.

AMY DICKINSON: Hey, Scott. Thank you.

SIMON: So how do you approach a conversation with loved ones - and I emphasize loved ones - when you just vehemently disagree?

DICKINSON: Very carefully (laughter). And I mean that. You know, you can't go into an encounter like this thinking, I'm going to change this other person. It's more a question of, what do I want to be? What kind of person am I? How do I want to behave, you know? And maybe going into some of these family encounters, you want to act a little more like Joe Biden and a little less like Donald Trump.

And, you know, I know people on both sides of this political divide.

SIMON: Yeah. In your family, yeah?

DICKINSON: Oh, yeah. My husband voted for Donald Trump. We have navigated this through the last four years. And I think in a way, it's been a gift to me because it's given me some nuance to a situation that is very black-and-white for a lot of people. But I don't necessarily assume that other people have monolithic viewpoints because I don't. You know, we walk around thinking, oh, I'm very nuanced. Everybody else is a bully. And it's not helpful to look at things that way.

SIMON: I wonder if at some point that's more understanding than we can reasonably expect of our species. I mean, I - as you know, I, too, am from a mixed-up family. And sometimes there's some remarks that are not just, oh, that's the worst idea for economic policy I've ever heard, but say things intentionally or otherwise that are genuinely anti-Semitic, racist, hateful. What do you do then?

DICKINSON: Well, I mean, classic communication technique is to use I statements. You don't say, you're a racist, you're a bigot, you're an anti-Semite. If you want to have a relationship with this person, you say that's offensive to me, explain why, and you ask the person not to talk that way. I also have, you know, techniques for what to do when I feel ganged up on.

SIMON: Well, dish, please. And no pun intended. Are there times when we should just say, boy, is that a great jello salad?

DICKINSON: Right. So my little tips are this - don't bite the hook.

SIMON: Yeah.

DICKINSON: Recognize when you're being baited and just don't go there. You can ask people - and I've done this many times - hey, let's talk about something else - misdirection. You say, oh, my gosh, remember that time we had to deep fry the turkey in the garage? And you go back to a shared experience that you and the other person can enjoy.

OK, here's another tip.


DICKINSON: Know where you put your coat, OK?


DICKINSON: Because - I always know where my coat is. Sometimes, especially in a large, crowded group, when I'm feeling not great, I will very quietly exit. And then I will contact the host later and say, hey, I had to slip out. Thank you so much.

SIMON: Yeah. I hear from a lot of people who are - well, and they say they just don't want to mend relations with people with whom they profoundly disagree or feel don't respect them. Is there any answer for that?

DICKINSON: Honestly, for me, I just think that is a shame. Listen; I think about all this country has been through, and I think that if we allow this, sort of, political divide to change us as people and to change our families, that means the bad guys won. You know what I mean?

SIMON: Yeah. Amy Dickinson - of course, she writes the advice column, Ask Amy - thanks so much for being with us today. Good to speak with you again.

DICKINSON: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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