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by Mary Harrington
Tuesday, 24
December 2019

Leave your echo chambers this Christmas

Many of us have lost the habit of navigating political differences
by Mary Harrington
A demonstrator on Whitehall shouts towards Downing Street during the pro-EU “March for Europe”. (Photo by David Cliff/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Three years after the technocratic style of government hit the iceberg of Brexit, politics is back with a vengeance. It is likely that whichever way you voted, not all of your loved ones will be on the same page this Christmas about the significance of recent events.

One of the most pernicious myths perpetuated by city life, and deepened by social media, is that we can create an ideological family around ourselves. With a bit of curation and careful unfollowing, we can ensure this elective family is composed entirely of people sympathetic to our own worldview.

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We see this in social media ‘echo chambers’; but something similar has been occurring geographically, with Left-wing voters increasingly concentrated in urban centres and university towns (a trend which preceded the election). The result has been a growing self-sorting of communities by political outlook. Many of us have lost the habit of navigating political differences in the community that surrounds us every day.

Thus it can be challenging to leave our geographies and spend a few days over Christmas with the family in which we were born, rather than with the friends we chose ourselves — especially if that means being confronted with political differences that would normally prompt a severing of friendship. But it is also an unprecedented opportunity to cut across the digital and geographical echo chambers.

Relatives remain relatives however annoying they are. In all but the most extreme circumstances, family love is unconditional and persists regardless of politics. There is a lesson there for our modern age of polarisation, in which it has become so easy to unfollow or discard a connection purely for expressing the wrong view on current affairs.

If we are not to fall apart, we must learn to listen to one another. Christmas dinner this year is a chance to grant a sympathetic hearing to points of view that might normally prompt an eye-roll or even an unfollow. So as you break bread this Christmas with family members whose politics irritate or even anger you, try seeing their point of view instead. Maybe then the unconditional love that manifests (however imperfectly) in family life can serve as a model for rebuilding our wider capacity to see one another’s perspectives.

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