It seems inevitable when socializing with others that the topic of politics comes up, especially when there is an upcoming election. This rarely leads to harmonious closeness of the people having what might otherwise be a friendly conversation.

We all have our opinions, and there is some fun in challenging each other’s viewpoints. It can lead to a broadening of perspectives and engaging debates, but often results in negative feelings.

In the worst of circumstances, it can end an otherwise happy friendship.

But by understanding and utilizing empathy, a person can take the sting out of biting words and disagree in a more compassionate way.

In my own experience, I have seen people “unfriend” others on social media because they disagree politically, or say disrespectful things in response to someone’s opinions.

I see neighbors and friends not speak for years because they did not vote for the same person.

If the relationship is already unhealthy, then that distance might be a good thing. But if a person discontinues a relationship or attacks others verbally because they cannot accept differing viewpoints, they have a lack of empathy.

Lack of empathy can lead to bullying, prejudice and a decreased desire to help others in need.

This does not benefit the self or others, while empathy fosters teamwork, understanding and patience within one’s self and with others.

Empathy is the ability to observe the feelings and viewpoint of another person from the other person’s frame of reference without judging them.

It’s like saying, “I can somewhat understand where you are coming from, and respect that you feel that way because I have felt similar feelings.”

It is important in developing empathy to understand that our own experiences are never exactly the same as another person’s. In order to empathize, we have to find a common bridge between each other.

We need to explore within ourselves some way that we have felt which can mirror how the other person might be feeling.

We need feedback from the other person to make sure we have “hit the nail on the head,” so to speak.

To do that, we need ask respectfully, to listen without judging, and remain willing to make adjustments in order to better understand the other person. And if for whatever reason you cannot maintain an empathic stance, agree politely to disagree.

Empathy does not always lead to a greater consensus on who is right, but it may lead to keeping cooler heads and maintaining a respectful stance when discussing politics.

Now if only all politicians would do that.

Alison Jedrick, MSW, LISW-CP, is an associate with Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.