Keep it in the family
EVERYTHING IS EMBARRASSING - Margarita Buenaventura (The Philippine Star) - January 6, 2017 - 12:00am

There are approximately 30 kilometers between Malacañang Palace and my family’s home in Antipolo, according to Waze. Even without traffic, that’s a long car ride, and that day, our trip was besieged by rude cars parking in the middle of the road to buy firecrackers in time for New Year’s Eve. It was an otherwise peaceful day, for most, besides the merry chaos going on in our car: my father in the driver’s seat, my mother beside him, while I was sandwiched between my mother’s parents (my grandparents) on either side at the back. We had just come back from a long lunch in old Manila and were heading to our place for New Year’s dinner. Over soothing jazz playing on 105.1 Crossover FM, Dad and I semi-yelled at each other for those entire 30 kilometers about who was worse in terms of job performance — was it President Duterte or Vice President Robredo?

The thing about debating is that it’s only truly fun for those who are part of it. I mean, it’s not the most spectator-y of spectator sports. It’s also not an actual sport. My mom, who was no stranger to this sort of banter between me and my dad (over meals, in family reunions, while watching the evening news), attempted to end the discussion with her brilliant diversionary tactics. “Ma, did you get to try the paella?” She would yell to her mom at the back, as though my dad and I weren’t talking in our cramped sedan. “I ate so much paella! I’m so full! I don’t think I can eat any more dinner tonight! But I think I’ll still eat! Wow, fireworks!” My grandparents remained quiet — but only because they, too, were split between supporting my dad’s side and supporting mine. Everybody wanted someone to win, except my mom, who just wanted to talk about the paella.

Since the elections began, these highly charged conversations have happened more frequently as it became clear that my dad and I supported different candidates. It starts when someone drops an innocuous bit of news mid-conversation: one candidate said something, another one replied back, and isn’t that so funny, ha-ha-ha? I don’t remember when it stopped being funny, and when these conversations began to bring out the worst in us. I remember the very night before the elections, our entire family had a huge argument over — you guessed it — whom to vote for. I left mid-meal because my face crumpled up when I heard, “If you’re going to vote for whom I think you’re going to vote for, then I think I’ll respect you less.”

That was probably the worst of it, but there have been so many moments similar to that for the past few months that just kept dividing and dividing and dividing the political line between me and my parents, especially my dad. Like many families whose political leanings varied, these close relationships took a toll when it came to this topic, because we all cared about it and we were so certain of how right we were. Both my dad and I just knew that we chose the right side, and we were so desperate to get the other one to budge that we would argue, yell and cry (mostly me) about it, hoping that one would crack. Well, no one has cracked until now.

My arguments with my parents (and the many stories I hear from friends about their own heated discussions with family over politics) reminds me of the last part of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when Professor Dumbledore awards Neville Longbottom 10 House points for standing up to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies,” Dumbledore said, “but just as much to stand up to our friends.” It’s so easy to argue with a stranger with opposing views when you’re both protected by the anonymity of the Internet — we feel bolder, and subsequently, we don’t gloss over what we say before hitting “send.” But when the “enemy” is right across the dinner table, the fight becomes trickier, because you’re not only fighting for a cause, but you’re also trying to protect an important relationship.

Sometimes, it’s easier to ignore it instead. If you know that it’ll just blow up in the end, why even engage? I’m often tempted to feign apathy because I get easily emotional in these types of discussions, and I get even more emotional when I hear, “Why do you care so much? It’s just politics. They don’t even know your name, and yet you defend them like you’re their spokesperson.” (FIRST OF ALL… you’re right. They don’t know me.) To that, I say now, it’s okay to care. In fact, if you care, then care as much as you damn well please. While I get immensely stressed out over these highly charged conversations, I want my relatives to know that young people aren’t apathetic, that a good chunk of us aren’t blind fanatics to certain public figures, and that we choose to defend things that we believe are right. If that makes us crybabies at some point, then I think it’s okay to let them see that, if only to show that there really are things worth crying over, and maybe even dying for.

What I’ve begun to accept is that in the same way that I’m passionate about this, anyone with an opposing view is probably as certain about their stance as I am. And just as much as you know that they can’t change your mind, accept the fact that you can’t change theirs. Politics, in my opinion, has very little moral high ground. Nobody’s really better than anybody, because even the saintliest of politicians has probably done something vaguely amoral to get to where they are. So what’s the point of even talking about it? Well, while we know that discussing it with family will hardly change actual policy, it does help to keep us on our toes. Because of this, we tend to take a keener look at the news: we don’t just take things at face value, we verify the truth presented to us, which helps keep our democracy healthy. We get better at safeguarding our rights and the rights of others; we become better at being watchdogs of the government itself.

Lately, I think I’ve gotten better at talking to my family about politics. My dad may hate it when I try to bookend his rants with, “Well, we can agree to disagree” (with a little more sass than intended), but it’s my own coping mechanism for maintaining a healthy discussion without me tearfully declaring that I’m the face of some kind of rebellion within the family. (I mean, that’s perhaps a tad too dramatic.) I may disagree with my family on a host of political issues, but they’re right about this one: that’s politics. This is family. At the end of the day, what matters the most is watching The Lord of the Rings with the people you love the most over New Year’s Eve dinner. That’s what we did, by the way, right after our battle in the car ended. And not only was that a great way to end an arguably insane year, but an even better way to start a new one.


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