How to Convince Your Conservative Parents to Vote 'Yes'

Because screaming “I wish I’d never been born!” won't work.

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29 September 2017, 12:33am

This postal vote is really something, isn't it? Words that come to mind: Cruel, wasteful, obsolete. But hey, that's called life and having a government made up of men who like to frick their wives in their sad, weird, four-poster-ass beds in their suburban homes after a limp and tasteless dinner of carrots and chicken kiev. You know? That's life.

So here we are. And we want the country to resoundingly vote "Yes." As taxing, as sad, and as unfair as it is, that might mean having to talk your parents off the ledge as it were. Parents who might've been raised to believe something that they've never—no matter how many dinners you've "ruined" with your "political correctness" on "vehement display"—learned to unlearn.

To find out how we might be more successful in talking to our conservative parents about voting for human rights in this circus of a thing, VICE reached out to a behavioural psychologist Dr Nick Haslam. Here's what he said.

VICE: How could someone talk to their parents or family about voting yes?
Dr Nick Haslam: I think it's important not to assume that they are voting no. Unless you have good evidence that your parents are anti-marriage equality, there is good evidence to suggest that people tend to be more pro. It's not necessarily the majority opinion among parent-age people that [marriage equality is] a bad idea. So it's probably good to start off with a gentle enquiry about how they plan to vote. I think you rarely win an argument by going in strongly, let alone lecturing people on what they ought to do.

If you were going to do it, what would be the best way to ask the question?
"Hey Mum and/or Dad, how are you planning to vote in the postal plebiscite?"


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And then the answer comes,"We're going to vote 'No,' son."
Well, here I think the key thing is not to immediately get into a fierce headset to change them otherwise. I think we need to be modest about the chance of changing people's views, on this and on any other attitude. Maybe start out by asking, "Why do you think that voting 'No' is the best thing for us at this time?" Rather than going in with counter arguments, I think it's best to establish common ground if there is any. Find areas of uncertainty: In terms of religious views, you're certainly not going to sway someone's views in a short conversation. In some respects, you could make it worse. So before you go into challenging someone's views on something, it's best to find out why they hold them and get a sense of how firmly.

What do you think the worst way to handle this conversation would be?
"I can't believe you're such dinosaurs, I wish I'd never been born!" I think that sometimes when we have these differences of fundamental opinion with people, our first instinct is to get moralistic and accuse people of being on the wrong side of history. That might make us feel good—and it might be right—but it won't persuade anyone to change their mind.

Yeah, I've been wondering about that. Is bringing up age and generational stuff a bad idea?
I think a lot of people's opinions and attitudes actually aren't very strongly thought out—they're not deliberated on. Your parents may or may not have thought deeply about marriage and why it should or shouldn't be restricted to heterosexual couples. A lot of our attitudes just come from what we're adjusted to and what's familiar. If you've lived your life in a time where the idea of same-sex marriage was outlandish, not even on the radar at times, you shouldn't necessarily expect people to come around easily. So I think it's important to have a bit of empathy for your parents—they're still human beings, in most cases—so if you can, try to be compassionate.

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What do you think about using your own experience to sway them? If you're queer and you say to your parents, "Well, what would you want for me?"
I think that possibly does work, because there's nothing like changing a prejudice with personal acquaintance. Obviously it hasn't worked for Tony Abbott but being with a living, breathing human adult or child who feels strongly about this issue can, in many cases, turn opinions around. If you are a queer kid and you want to use your experience to relate to your parents, I think it would could be wise to say, "Well, don't you want your kid to have a secure, stable, state-sanctioned relationship? What do you want for me? Do you want happiness? Part of my happiness might include getting married."

What would you recommend you do if the conversation started well, and was going okay, but then descends into madness. Do you change tactics, or should you bring it up again another time?
You will not change anyone's mind while they are angry: They will dig into their position and become committed to opposing you no matter what. If things go pear-shaped it's better to pull out graciously and then politely bring the issue up later when tempers have cooled.

Would you recommend continuing to bring it up? Like trying a number of times?
If you go down in flames twice, I suspect there is not much point trying again. If there is polite disagreement you might consider being more persistent.

When do you quit? And how do you cope knowing your parents don't agree with something you fundamentally believe?
You quit when the risk of damaging your relationship with your parents outweighs the benefit of changing their minds. You can cope by remembering two things: first, that even if you did not succeed more people are changing their minds to be in favour of marriage equality than the reverse, and second, that their disagreement with you doesn't necessarily reflect any fondness for inequality or homophobia on their part but could just reflect a reluctance to change a belief that was the shared, common sense reality for most of your parents' lives.

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