On the 18th of April a shock General Election was called in the UK. This will be our third nationwide polling in as many years, and seems as likely to provoke strong feeling as the previous election and referendum. The tragic murder of Jo Cox showed just how inflamed passions have been, and it seems, simply from glancing at social media, continue to be.

It feels as if the country is in the grip of anger, and lashing out at the supposed “enemy” seems common. How then are we to navigate this when it is close friends and family? I have myself seen long term friendships come to an end over the Brexit vote, and family rifts have been reported on both sides. 

See the individual, not the group.

When caught in strong emotions it’s all too human to make sweeping assumptions, to say - “All people who do X think Y”. That an emotional state is not a reasoning state of mind might sound obvious, but sometimes we need a reminder. You may know how your auntie Jean or best mate Bob voted, but unless you directly (and calmly) ask them why they voted, you do not know. Sweeping statements such as “all Tory voters are racist” or “all Labour voters are naive”  treats people as if they are not individuals, and are based on assumption not facts. 

Try to remember to see each person as an individual therefore, rather than assigning group characteristics to them.

You may discover that your best friend Bob actually voted because he believes in forced repatriation, or some other extreme view. That is the moment to be congruent about your values, and if need be, end the friendship. Congruence is about your behaviour and values going hand and in hand, and only you know what your core values are. You alone can decide where your line in the sand lies with regard to the behaviour and beliefs of those close to you. However you may discover that their reasons were very different to the assumptions that you have been making.

A word here about ending friendships. Unfortunately, as children we tend to be told that we must get along with everyone, and that message runs deep. Many people take on the idea there is some kind of moral failing if a friendship ends. In fact friendships, like most relationships have their own natural life span, sometimes a few weeks, sometimes many years. It’s not a weakness or a failing to recognise that life means you have moved on. How you end the friendship, without point scoring, or the need to have the last word, matters far more than the fact it has ended.

With family members it may be more difficult to have a complete break, or you may not wish to, which brings me to my second suggestion.

Space to Breathe

When we are in the grip of strong emotions is natural to slip into a child like mode of thinking and pretend everything can magically be OK. It may be natural, but it is not helpful. An adult accepts that people have feelings, and respects that. If you know someone is upset by how you voted, be the adult, give them space. If you are upset by how someone voted, give yourself space. Most social media has excellent mute facilities, use them. Again don’t make this about having the last word, there are no prizes for winning arguments. 

There is no need to tell people they are muted, or that you are avoiding them, again try to keep this in the “adult” unemotional state. This isn’t about demanding recognition for how you feel, but about acknowledging your feelings and putting steps in place to prevent a rift. Part of this is about taking responsibility for your own feelings. If you know someone will be expressing thoughts and opinions which you find upsetting there is an element of personal responsibility in deciding to expose yourself to that person. By the same token, if your views are upsetting others, it is your choice to continue with the behaviour.

One of the best pieces of advice ever, is if you feel in the grip of strong emotions, give yourself 2 hours before responding to someone, especially online. It’s incredible how often when you return you wonder what had got you so angry.

Let it go

As I have already said, there are no prizes for winning an argument. If your niece is driving you mad sharing “we are all doomed” posts on Facebook, does she need a lecture or a hug? What matters more, proving you are right, or accepting that people think differently from you, and might be hurt by different things? I have been struck by the lack of compassion and empathy being displayed in political arguments recently. You may not agree with how a family member or friend thinks, but that does not mean their feelings are wrong. Feelings are facts, by which I mean they exist, independent of whether we think they should or not. By acknowledging the feeling, and offering support for it, you are not saying you agree with the cause, you are going a long way towards avoiding an argument which could lead to an irrevocable rift.

So, in order to avoid irrevocable rifts try to remember these four points: 

  •  Remain in an adult, reasoning mode,

  •  Let go of point scoring 

  • Replace it with compassion 

  • Give yourself, and others, space.