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The holidays bring people together – family dinners, parties at friends’ houses, local events. One of the best aspects of gatherings is meeting new people or reconnecting with ones you haven’t seen in a while (hello, COVID!). As a social species we love to interact, sharing information and personal experiences. With many saying the United States has never been as divided a nation since the Civil War, some conversations can be tricky. And there’s a lot of stuff to talk about these days: abortion rights, gender pronouns, transgender rights. Here’s a few things to think about when you find yourself deep in a potentially provocative discussion:

1. Consider perspective. Get an idea where the person you’re speaking with comes from; their unique life experiences. They are likely looking at the issue with a different lens or angle than you.

2. Listen. Are you that person who immediately formulates a statement and can barely wait to jump into a conversation with your opinion as soon there’s an opening? Don’t do that: instead, listen before diving in. Everyone wants to feel heard, so really listening and understanding a viewpoint is important. Even if you completely disagree with what someone is saying, you’ve given them the time and space to finish their thought as you’d want them to do in return.

3. Keep your cool. Don’t match bad behavior. Calm can be contagious.

4. Know your facts. You probably won’t change the opinion of someone’s views but you can share facts. Do they know that abortions are considered one of the safest medical procedures in the U.S.? That sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to and gender identity is about who you are? That transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, face shockingly high rates of murder, homelessness, and incarceration? That Planned Parenthood of Delaware provides nonjudgmental counseling and services on a host of human healthcare matters -- from cancer screening to hormone therapy; infertility services to adoption, and STI/HIV testing and prevention?

5. You’re the boss of you. Worst-case scenario, if the conversation starts to get personal or downright invasive, you have every right to set conversation boundaries. “I appreciate your curiosity but I am not comfortable discussing that topic.” Or, “We can discuss your views on this topic but if it’s attacking mine, then I’ll have to leave.”

Don’t let the anticipation of uncomfortable conversations with family or friends spoil your holiday plans. Remember that you don’t need to resolve everything in a single conversation. You’ve begun a tough and honest dialogue with each other: that’s important and, for now, that’s enough.

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