2022 Philippine Elections

[New School] The Gen Z’s guide to engaging elders in political discussions

Angel Martinez
[New School] The Gen Z’s guide to engaging elders in political discussions

Graphic by Nico Villarete

'[B]ombarding our family members with convincing facts and figures does very little to change their minds'

Over the past week, we’ve watched, with bated breath, aspirants file their certificates of candidacy for the upcoming elections. As we all sift through our choices and prepare to watch them battle it out at the polls, we must also brace ourselves for the looming battles taking place in our homes: politically-charged discussions with family members.

Given the evident generational gap and the corresponding differences in values and beliefs, there’s no wonder most of us choose to shrink away from such open forums completely. Sadly, these are moments we cannot keep avoiding: after all, we can’t just mute or block those who live under our own roof. But by learning how to navigate them maturely, we pave the way for productive discourse that could eventually lead to a pivot in viewpoint.

Before engaging in such conversations, especially as a member of Generation Z, it helps to know what we’re getting into. A substantial body of research points to the fact that older internet users’ susceptibility to misinformation is heavily influenced by biology, given the effects of aging on the brain. At around age 45, factors such as lower impulse control, slower cognitive function, and higher rates of social isolation begin to impair their ability to think critically. When coupled with a collective lack of information literacy, their attempts to navigate the social media landscape can often be a tedious exercise. Our social networks are designed to be impermeable echo chambers, so it’s hard to pin the blame when the truth doesn’t get through.

And if that wasn’t difficult enough already, we find ourselves in a pandemic that has everyone on edge and thus makes us more defensive with regard to sensitive matters. It’s at this critical stage that we must decide whether moving forward with an argument — no matter how healthy — will be productive or not. Are we about to cross the line with someone whose relationship with us has already been tested by years of strain and strife? In the event that they disagree with us, do we have the mental capacity to cope with the disappointment or maybe even anger that will follow?

If we are brave enough to take on the challenge, then the crucial first step is to be willing to understand where they’re coming from, even if that entails listening to a long litany of reasons that have already been debunked by credible sources. True, this sounds like a tall order: how do we empathize with a Marcos apologist or DDS, who likely possesses a blatant disregard for human rights? But sometimes, their beliefs are not all black and white. In fact, rare is the case when a voter has completely identified with a candidate’s platform. By understanding the nuances in their choices, we can better create a space that encourages them to speak.

Once their defenses have been lowered, it’s time for us to assess if they are willing to return the favor and listen to us. Braver Angels, an organization that borrows techniques utilized in therapy to help families with clashing viewpoints, calls this pivoting, “indicating that you are about to offer a different perspective, [and] ensuring that the person you are disagreeing with really wants to hear [what you have] to say.”

Contrary to popular belief, bombarding our family members with convincing facts and figures does very little to change their minds. Not only does this easily pass off as an assertion of intellectual superiority, data and statistics also don’t tug at the heartstrings like personal stories. Belinda  Luscombe of Time Magazine explains, “People who are related or love each other are much less likely to ignore or scoff at [each other’s experiences.]” By speaking subjectively on an issue that has affected us or someone close to us, the other party is able to seek out our deeper reasons for rooting for our candidates.

Of course, this is an ideal situation: most of the time, our elders don’t have the time or emotional bandwidth to engage. If they start getting snappy, take it as a sign to veer off course and change the subject, or tend to other matters instead. But this response is not something we should take personally. One of the most bitter pills that we perpetually have to swallow is that we have no control over others’ truths, especially if these are what they’ve believed for longer than we’ve been alive. We can try again when the tension has died down but there are no guarantees that outcomes will look up.

But just as we accept that they are their own person, we must remind them when necessary that the same holds true for us. Having opinions independent of those who raised us may be jarring for those whose word we used to regard as law. There may be a tendency for them to be condescending as discussions progress, with common sentiments being that we are too young or inexperienced to know things. In this case, it’s best to remind them respectfully that we’ve done our research, learned this in school, and basically know better than they are leading us to believe. Actively calling out this form of gaslighting shows them that we’d rather not be treated as kids seated at the adults’ table.

In future instances, it would be ideal to set boundaries with certain family members and opt out of political debates altogether. This feels like an outright violation of our civil duty to educate and empower those within our circles, but it is far more counterproductive to continue feeding into a hurtful exchange of words. Don’t be afraid to admit the impossibility of seeing eye to eye with them, and choose the evergreen “agree to disagree” option. Choose instead to promote interactions with those who are actually receptive, who are willing to examine their biases and misconceptions critically and hopefully change their minds.

At the end of the day, only we know if it’s most beneficial to cut ties with relatives, or if these differences are the type we are willing to overlook. But regardless of the outcome, it’s always a valiant effort to take the risk and open up avenues for conversations — even if our efforts only bear fruit after a long period of time.

Family psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg tells Yahoo! Life, “I’m not going to say avoid political discussions [but] keep it moving gracefully. Listen to people; try as hard as you can to listen to what they have to say and tell them what your opinions are. We have to be able to have discourse, to have conversations. It’s really challenging, but try to do it anyway with our emotions tucked in.” – Rappler.com

Angel Martinez is a freelance writer and graduating Communications Technology Management student from Ateneo de Manila University. Regardless of where life takes her, she hopes to inspire meaningful growth in people, products, and organizations.