The old adage states that in polite conversation, there are three things you are not to discuss: money, religion and politics. And it makes sense. No one wants to know how much is in your bank account or who around the dinner table you think is going to hell. But here and now, I’m calling for a referendum on part three. The simple fact of the matter is that political discourse, in all its shapes and sizes, is too important to be stifled for the sake of civility.

In the aftermath of the holiday season, everyone can look back and cringe at some comment made at a family meal. A simple Google search reveals hundreds of tips and tricks to endure usually ranting, possibly racist and often over-served relatives around the Thanksgiving table. And that is the general image of politics at family gatherings: biting one’s tongue, knowing that if you allow your opinion to burst forth it will end with someone storming off into the living room, offended. So you keep quiet and let it go. Next time, try speaking up.

As a student at a large liberal university, it’s not every day that I come across someone with whom I disagree. I may be challenged by different approaches or the intricacies of a position that is not my own. But for the most part, I am surrounded by those who care about similar issues, who take similar stances and who will inevitably vote in a similar way as I will in the next election, and our conversations will generally fall under the blanket of liberalism. Walk into any library and count the number of Bernie stickers that have colonized laptops, water bottles and backpacks. So when my uncle at Christmas attempts to explain to me why he’s voting for Donald Trump, I don’t pass up the rare opportunity for debate.

Though I refuse to accept the validity of the contemporary image of college-going millennials as thin-skinned, frivolous and too quick to protest, I will accept one critique of my generation: we’re sheltered. Through social media and conversation with the people I speak to on a daily basis, the greater majority of my political positions remain unchallenged. I have conservative friends, of course, but as I’m writing this, I’m struggling to name more than five. And through this bastion of liberalism I’ve found among my peers, I miss out on opportunities for otherwise valuable in-depth discussion. Roundtable discussions of young liberals agreeing with other young liberals can only last so long. Going home and interacting with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles from different generations and all over the country offers me invaluable exposure to a wider range of political thinking that I would otherwise scroll past on my Facebook feed or laugh at through the intermediary John Oliver or Stephen Colbert.

Talking through it all, persuading my uncle to support another candidate — really any candidate other than Trump — makes a difference in the long run. My uncle may not get up from the table with a changed mind, but who knows? Maybe something I said will resonate with him months down the road, or maybe his mind will never change. Regardless, this conversation forced me to vocalize my dissent, fleshing out the specifics of why and how I disagree with Donald Trump, rather than dismissing him as I would on any given day in my dorm room.

Important to note as well is the fact that these exchanges operate in both directions. As much as I learn from having my ideas challenged and molded by family and friends with whom I disagree, their positions inevitably evolve as well (though they may not always let you see it). Just as my aunt explained to me why my generation is perceived as “crybabies” in our never-ending quest for inclusiveness, I’d like to think that my explanation of cultural appropriation and its importance left some sort of impression on her.

For example, I will never vote for Donald Trump. It’s pretty much a physical law of the universe, like gravity or 1+1=2. However, through conversation with my uncle I have begun to understand substantially more about his appeal and why his supporters are flocking to the idea of making America great again. The simple fact of the matter is that he cannot be bought, he speaks his mind and he’s about as far as it gets from the lackluster, ineffective politicians to which American voters are accustomed. On any given day in Ann Arbor, however, I would attribute Trump’s popularity to an effective use of fear-mongering and a misguided crusade against the “evil” that is political correctness. But there’s more to the Republican frontrunner, and I know that now.

For 19 years, I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by stubborn relatives who don’t care about what is “polite conversation” and who are willing to speak their minds. Discussing politics around the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables has helped me formulate my own ideological identity. The idea that this practice is something that should somehow be avoided, muted or excluded is absurd to me.

2016 is set to be a maelstrom of political activity. Frontrunners in the presidential race include a reality TV star, a socialist and a former first lady whose unfavorables remain mysteriously high. Immigration, foreign policy, race and the relationship between our government and its people will be points of constant contention. So make a belated New Year’s Resolution. Don’t shy away from political discussion because it is somehow “impolite.” Take advantage of the opportunity to engage others, and, as millennials in our first-ever presidential election, make our voices heard. Because in the long run, it’s really not that impolite. And the discourse is simply too valuable to pass up. 

Brett Graham can be reached at btgraham@umich.edu.

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