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What if your neighbor, friend or family member supports the authoritarian regime?
Don’t look down on them, don’t patronize them, even if you know what they’re saying has no factual basis or you find it offensive. Don’t preach, ask questions. Try to understand them, where they are coming from, what their problems are and why they see solutions to them in the regime. Treat them as people, as equals. They believe what they’re saying is true and they might have valid reasons for their support.
Don’t get emotional, don’t get provoked into heated arguments. Fight the other side’s emotions with your calm, logical approach. The angrier they get, the calmer you should be. They’ll calm down eventually.
Focus on what you have in common. Do you live in the same neighborhood? Do you work in the same company or sector? The smaller the community, the easier it is. Give examples, like “we all need to get this done for all of us, if we don’t cooperate neither of us will have it”.
Use their language, don’t treat it as inferior or below you – don’t seem patronizing (see rule 1). If they curse, curse with them. If they approach you with humor, don’t get angry or uptight about it, reply with humor. Show them you’re actually not that different (see rule 3). As long as you communicate on two different planes, you will never meet.
Don’t block their news sources, don’t turn away from their leaders and authority figures. Treat them as an insight to their worldview and tactics. Use them to your advantage, to better prepare for their arguments. Whenever you don’t agree with something or detect a lie, voice it calmly, expose it with factual arguments.
Pinpoint the practical, negative effects of their side’s actions, ones that affect them directly. Find examples of how they, their families, children or friends will be personally impacted by their policies, or how it will affect your shared community.
If all else fails, don’t turn away, don’t abandon your friends and family, don’t shun your neighbors. Remember, an authoritarian wants to divide you to control you. So invite them over to your BBQ, crack open a beer, and who knows, maybe they’ll realize you’re not so different after all.
– With love, your Eastern European friends.