Illustration by Tina Duong
More often than not, we encounter people in our lives who hold variably different opinions than our own. Usually, these differences of opinion are easily overcome – everyone doesn’t have to love the same TV shows or like Harry Potter. However, even these small differences can present challenges to the strongest of relationships. But what happens when these opinions, specifically those regarding social and political issues, veer into offensive territory? For those who generally follow progressive ideology, is it even possible to get along with those who lean more conservative and vice versa?
Some of the most difficult relationships to maintain are those where both parties have wildly different social and political views, particularly with liberal-conservative relationships. The more damaging disparities between liberal and conservative people often have to do with subjects of social matter. Speaking from personal experience, those who lean conservative have more of a propensity to be racist, homophobic, sexist, and overall oppressive than those who lean liberal. That is not to say that those who are conservative cannot be socially aware, but there is a proven correlation between conservatism and oppression, which magnifies the difficulties of making conservative-liberal relationships flourish. Often times, those in polarized relationships might find it easier to just steer clear of provocative conversation. However, such conversation in the context of activism can make all the difference.
These conservative-liberal relationships often lead to touchy yet important discussions. For those who identify with social and political activism, speaking up and putting forth a thoughtful argument against offensive assertions is often part of the deal. Those who identify with social activism should take it upon themselves, to a certain extent, to better the world in any which way they can. Starting with everyday relationships is one of the most accessible and important ways to do so. Being educated, passionate, and believing you can make a difference even to someone who might seem unlikely to budge can lead to valuable results.
By way of their definition, most activists would find difficulty with sitting quiet when someone shares an opinion which you find intrinsically offensive, and beginning discourse regarding the problematic behavior can spur social change down the road. Yet, constantly speaking up against offensive comments and assertions can be tiring. Though it is important as an activist to speak up against unjust assertions, it is not their job to do so at the expense of their mental health. Relationships are difficult enough as they are, and when such rampant differences come into play, the maintenance can sometimes seem impossible.
To those that are more progressive, let me reiterate: it is not your job to put aside your mental health to have these constant uncomfortable conversations with people to whom you are close with, in an effort to prove your activism. Expressing your opinion can be important and powerful, but it can also be utterly exhausting and put forth an unreasonable amount of emotional labor as one may find trouble in correcting or arguing against someone whilst also ensuring that they are comfortable and unhurt. As every airplane safety video asserts, please put on our own oxygen mask before assisting others – in other words, take care of yourself before embarking on your journey to change the world, one bigot at the time.
In the context of these difficult relationships rampant with ideological differences and important conversations, self-care is especially important. Self-care may look different on a person-by-person basis, but the idea is the same: care of one’s own physical and emotional state without medical or professional consultation. Self-care can range from acts of daily living that lead to optimal quality of life and health, such as eating well and maintaining good hygiene, to more relaxing and engaging activities, such as meditation, getting a massage, or taking a trip. There are endless forms of self-care, and each one is equally important. As mentioned previously, self-care is incredibly important in the context of activism and the more polarizing relationships. One is unable to perpetuate a sense of activism and valuable discourse if they are not in an emotional state to do so. Thus, mental health should be an activist’s first priority, in order for them to do their best work.
Lastly, it is important to recognize that it is completely valid to distance yourself from those who say or believe things that consistently bother you. Limiting time with the people who exhaust you in your physical, emotional, and psychological labor or even cutting them out of your life altogether, can be the healthiest option. Remember, putting yourself first is the best decision you can make.