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This morning I received an email from a relative demanding that I state my political viewpoints on a hot-button topic in US politics because his political views are opposite from those that are being posted by my wife on Facebook (specifically, he asked if I shared her views). The things that my wife has posted that he disagrees with were enumerated. He then went on to imply that my wife is driven by hate and only has these viewpoints because of the location within the US that we live and her profession (relevant excerpt):

I understand that (your wife) is surrounded by ultra left-wingers in a university setting and she is likely inundated with constant hate. It might be worth having her check her facts rather than mimicking her radical associates just to get along.

As I tell everyone with hate as their pilot, you don't have to love someone to believe in them.

It was ended with "Please do give me your rebuttal if you will. I respect your opinions."


For some background, I have not had a Facebook account for many years for several reasons, one of those reasons being that I strongly dislike discussing politics (especially among family). My wife and I do not discuss politics. If it matters, I consider myself moderate and am not registered with any political party.

Based on the enumerated offenses in the email, some of the things my wife posted are pretty neutral, and some were stronger politically, but to my eyes none of them were radical or extreme. However, I can see how someone from the opposite side of the political spectrum might think they were extreme or radical.

Potentially of relevance is that this relative has always believed that I share his political viewpoints (I do not nor have not - I have never corrected him but never encouraged the belief either). Additionally, he tells me every time we meet that I have to leave where I currently live because of how radical the political views there are. There is a strong implication that he believes I will become "brainwashed" by the region.


For me, this email is completely out of the blue, and I feel as though I have been randomly accosted and told to defend political views that I have deliberately not stated.

I am not sure even how to respond to this, or if I even want to. I cannot understand why it is important to him that I tell him my views when my views have no bearing on his life.

I also don't really appreciate the implications that my wife cannot think for herself or that she is driven by hate. I cannot tell if he wants me to "fix" my wife or is just saying this to get a reaction out of me.

I also do not understand why he would not just confront my wife about this if he is so upset by what she has posted.


I am on the fence as to if I should respond, but if I do, here is how I was thinking of responding. My goal would be to make it clear that I do not want to have this conversations or conversations like it down the road, address the way he characterized my wife, all without escalating the situation. Would my proposed response achieve this? If not, what might work better?

I prefer to keep my opinions and views to myself - all I will say is that I consider myself a moderate. One of the reasons I am not on Facebook is that I actively dislike discussing politics. I do not now, nor have I ever in the past, nor will I be likely in the future, wish to discuss politics, especially with family. I do not appreciate being dragged into a political discussion against my will, and do not understand why others would care about my political views.

I am saddened to see that you believe (my wife) is driven by hate. She is not a caricature, but instead is a real person. I am also saddened that you believe that she cannot form her own opinions, but rather accepts the views of those around her. She is her own person, and has been since I met her. Her views are her own, for better or worse, whether you or I agree or disagree with them.

I would suggest that if you find her posts offensive to discuss them with her directly, or to block her posts so you do not have to see them.


UPDATE/RESOLUTION:

I ended up sending an edited form of @baldPrussian's suggestion. It turns out that my relative also does not have Facebook, and he was writing the email on behalf of his wife (!). He also indicated he is concerned that she is eroding her public integrity on Facebook and he might discuss that with her.

So, I responded to that with the following

If you do write to her, I suggest you do so without using charged language such as "hate", "lies", "ultra-left-wing", etc. Whether or not you believe it to be true, using those terms will quickly turn any communication into an attack, and the core message of "don't erode your public integrity" will be lost. Using that language is very accusatory, and anybody reading that will be put on the defensive.

If you actually want to help, please stay neutral or you will just make things worse.

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  • What sort of relation do you have with this relative? Is it your brother which you have to see and talk to on a regular basis, or some uncle who lives across the country and you only talk to at a funeral once every couple of years? – AsheraH Aug 30 '20 at 18:53
  • @AsheraH It is exactly the latter. Though I would see him at Christmas as well if I go back on a given year. – Rincewind Aug 30 '20 at 19:07
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I have tried (and to the most part succeeded) in staying out of the fray of US politics. Examination of my FB page, comments, and responses would show a pretty apolitical stance.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. First of all, I submit that US politics are right now marked by zealotry. People don't just disagree, they see people that they disagree with as others - needing education, straightening out, or to be ignored.

Secondly, and I've said this numerous times in this forum, there's no arguing or reasoning with a zealot. Remember, they're right. There's no need for them to change their mind; they know what they need to know and are extremely resistant to having their viewpoints challenged.

The challenge is to show grace to others. It's easy to show it to people that deserve it; it's a LOT harder to show grace to people that don't deserve it. Yet that's precisely what grace is - showing compassion and forgiveness to everyone.

So.. the response. You have the right idea about not escalating the situation. In conversations with my more extreme friends, I've found that they aren't open to sharing views - they want to share theirs, but yours, being wrong, don't get the same respect. So don't go into that snakepit. I'll propose the following edits to your proposed response; feel free to accept or reject them.

Thanks for reaching out! It's been a while. I hope all is well with you!

I want to take a moment and reply to your e-mail. I try to stay out of politics; it only seems to lead to fights. Even with [wife], we don't try to influence each other's views. She is her own person, and has been since I met her. Her views are her own, for better or worse, whether I agree or disagree with them. I love her for having her own opinions and respect that she and I may not always feel the same way about things but in the end we still find a lot of common ground

Because of the respect we have for each other, we don't get in the middle of discussions with other people. If you have an issue with something she said, I'd request you bring it up with her. That said, as well as I know her, I don't think she makes decisions based on hate - she's the one I love and I see the good qualities in her, rather than giving her such a motive.

As for my views... politics is an ugly business these days. Rather than talk about the things that divide us, I'd rather talk about what unites us. Let's stay in touch to talk about our jobs, families, homes, struggles, etc. I want to stay in touch with you and not argue something like political views.

Say hi to the others from me; I'd love to hear from you again!

This tries to do a couple things: it says you care about them, it says you want to stay in contact, but it also draws a pretty firm line that you aren't going to get in the middle of this (in fancy terms, they're trying to do triangulation).

At the end of the day, if they decide to cease contact because of something so base as political views... good riddance. I'd rather not have my life be filled with all the acrimony anyways.

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  • This is a good softening of what I was originally thinking. Over the course of the day I have been editing the response in my head, and it was definitely getting less soft... seeing it put this way has gotten me more on track. – Rincewind Aug 31 '20 at 2:53
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    @Rincewind I find that I do the same thing as well... I go over responses in my head multiple times and instead of softening them, I find I want to really zing the person I'm responding to. In my experience, that doesn't improve relations and doesn't lead the person to the light. Good luck! – baldPrussian Aug 31 '20 at 13:41
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    I used your wording as a basis, and things went as well as they could (I updated the question with the details). One thing that I found interesting... he was writing to me because it was his wife that was upset! So instead of triangulation, it was... squaration? Tesseration? – Rincewind Aug 31 '20 at 15:03

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