I have not talked politics with my family since shortly after the planes hit the Twin Towers. I was the only person in my immediate family whose response was influenced by non-U.S. perspectives. The way I expressed my patriotism was incomprehensible to my father, in particular.

With every argument, the differences between us were revealed. It wasn’t simply party politics; it was a whole worldview about how power operated, about what was acceptable and what was not, about who deserved compassion and who did not. But as a short-hand: politics.

Circumstances far beyond our home became intensely intimate, and every expression of values became synonymous with a political party, ideology or figure — and the family member judged accordingly.

As financially comfortable white folks, we perhaps could have kept politics at bay if 9/11 had not, in a way, shocked the complacency out of us. With the national pressure to perform a patriotism of unquestioned loyalty, we could no longer paper over our differences.

It broke my father’s heart that I didn’t agree with his worldview, and it broke my heart that he spoke to me the way he did. After several disastrous holiday dinners and a lot of ridicule, I happily assented to an agreement that still stands today: We are not allowed to talk about politics.

This agreement has had modest success, but here’s the problem: Now that it’s 2024, and a monumental election looms, two things seem even truer than they did in 2001: 1) everything that matters divides us, and 2) the things that divide us matter in material, fundamental and ethical ways we cannot be quiet about: civil rights, racism, healthcare, the environment, the value of human life, and representative democracy.

When I am with my family these days, I have to reroute about a million thoughts that were headed for my mouth. These are just spontaneous, naturally occurring thoughts about the things I am passionate about and what’s going on in my life. Thoughts about the work that I do and the people I care about. Thoughts about my accomplishments, my spiritual growth, and my dreams.

In moments of deepest fulfillment, this thought enters, unbidden, inevitable: If it came down to it, my parents and I would be on opposite sides of the “barricades.” It’s as if a civil war has already begun, and this is the first casualty.

And yet, my parents and I get along better today than we did in 2001. We are closer. We appreciate one another as people in ways we did not before. We say “I love you” more frequently.

We have all worked hard to develop compassion for our conflicting positions, and when that fails, to abstract from one another’s personality the traits that transcend politics. Dad and I talk about sports. Mom and I talk about dogs.

Refusing to give up on relationship has taught us a lot about love—and done very little to lessen our deep ideological differences. Our hard work just can’t keep up with the intensifying divisions outside our family and the national reckoning that is underway.

Not sharing the things we care most about is the price we pay to stay in relationship. It is heartbreaking to me that we have less and less to say to one another. But we keep on digging, looking for the deep, deep spring of whatever it is that still makes us a family. We find just enough to keep going.

And as we limp along, sustaining loving relationships with family members on the other side of the barricades, we accomplish something that may turn out to be quite meaningful after all: we assimilate the truth that, no matter what the conflict is, no one is less than human.

We can still gather around a table, pray, and laugh. Everyone wishes it were easier, but we are also just grateful it is still possible.

Conflict with a beloved other can be devastating, especially when it seems to reveal a clash of values. I wrote this lectio divina practice specifically so that I could understand a family member whose views brought out the worst in me. You can read the instructions for the practice and the story behind the practice.

The ways we talk to one another matter. They can make even fundamental differences easier to manage. Prepare for tough conversations by practicing mirroring, humility, and listening.