In this holiday season we will gather with family and friends, probably by zoom or phone. How do you keep your conversations from disputes and hard feelings?


Amanda Abrams wrote a helpful article in YES. (YES, December 2020) She tells of people who were firmly convinced of one political persuasion and came to realize another view.


What brings about deep changes?


Researchers tell us not to look to facts. “People think they think like scientists, but they really think a lot like attorneys,” say Pete Ditto, a professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine. We develop our beliefs through our feelings, not our brains.


We decide what we believe and then we find facts to fit that belief. Our belief comes from connecting with others and then having an emotional experience.


The basic way to change someone’s thinking is to include them in a mixed group. The more contact we have with other people with different views, the easier it is for us to tolerate and communicate with people who may not agree with us. Try listening to different sources of news.


Many of us live in isolation, thanks to the pandemic. But before the pandemic, many of us lived in a silo. We got our political news from one source. We chose friends who thought and acted like us. We lived in a neighborhood with people who looked like us and thought like us. We have been in silos for a long time in our country.


What brings about change? Change is easier once we get to know “other groups” personally. They start to matter to us. They are not just an abstract idea to us, but they are human like we are. They deserve to be treated as well as we are treated.


Change comes about by reaching out to different groups of people in our community and our organizations. Conversation is key. But the style of conversation is crucial. Leave judgment out of the picture. Start with respecting the other person. Listen carefully to them. Talk about our own feelings.


Joan Blades, co-founder of Living Room Conversations, gathers Democrats and Republicans for dialogue. She often talks about attitudes softening—on both sides—when we understand why people feel the way they do.”


Marsha Summers, a book club leader in Richmond, Virginia, believes that people are changed more by stories than by arguments. Change happens when people learn the perspective of other people.


Deep canvassing was done in Marathon County for the recent election. Deep canvassing combines contact, trust and storytelling. Rather than merely dropping off literature, the canvasser asks residents about an issue, listens carefully and then talks honestly about their own experience. Try to understand what motivates voters. Try to understand what is behind the initial impression. Show the voter you are not out to judge or belittle them. Be open.


Changing minds may not happen on the spot, but deep canvassing does give people something to think about. This season, give the gift of listening and leave judgment behind.


May your visits with family and friends be merry and bright!