With only a few weeks to go before the presidential election, and emotions running high, Iíd like to suggest a 12-point plan to insure survival for those relationships with family, friends and lovers where there is disagreement with your particular point of view.
  Number One: Shut up.
  Numbers Two through Twelve: Continue to shut up.
  These are tumultuous times. Iíve never seen so many people, including me, so emotionally charged about an election. There very well may be "undecideds" out there. I just havenít met them yet.
  Everyone I know is heavily invested on one side or the other. At this late date, or at any date, they are not likely to change their minds. Unfortunately, that doesnít stop most of us from trying.
  I did it again the other night at a family gathering. It doesnít take much to trigger the fireworks. One inane comment usually will do it. Next thing you know, weíre shouting across the table, disagreeing on everything under the sun.
  Thankfully, my 84 year old mother, who is intent on maintaining family unity, came to the rescue. She raised her hand and announced she had something to say. As the shouting slowly ceased, and the room was finally quiet, she asked her question.
  "I just want to know," she said softly, "who believes in the Easter bunny?"
  Iím not sure we would agree on that answer, either, but the tension was gone. She had made her point, and we made it through the rest of the evening without any more "heated" discussions.
  And Iím vowing to keep it that way. I have come to the simple conclusion that weíre all wired differently. Iím certainly no smarter or well-informed than my friends or family members who disagree with me. For unknown reasons, we just see the world differently, and weíre not likely to change.
  The trick, then, as my 12-point program noted above spells out, is to shut up, especially for the next three weeks. However, most of us need to express our opinions to someone, or else weíll explode. Obviously, the solution is to find someone who agrees with you.
  This isnít always easy. I have quite a few acquaintances whom Iím unsure of their political affiliations. One misstep and any burgeoning friendship could be put on hold for quite some time. At least until after the election.
  Thatís why youíve got to sniff. Iím getting pretty good at it. These days, you can talk about just about anything and someone will eventually tip their hand as to whether theyíre one of them, or one of us.
  Some people are easy targets. Theyíre the ones who just assume everyone agrees with them. Theyíll start spouting endorsements and accusations for all to hear, totally oblivious to the idea that the person sitting across from them thinks theyíre a total idiot.
  But others are harder to crack, and thatís the way it should be. I have one good friend who I sniffed for months trying to see which way he leaned. When I finally got my answer, I was disappointed. But it didnít affect our friendship because we both wisely adhered to Step Four of my 12-point program: Shut up.
  It sure is fun, though, to sniff someone out and find out theyíre on your side. It becomes an instant love-fest. You say something and they tell you how right you are. You blast the other side and they tell you how right you are. You can bond in a matter of moments.
  Conversely, thereís always the chance that someone wonít like you sniffing around. Thereís a lot of pit bulls out there who will turn on you before your nose is anywhere near them. Thatís probably because youíve "showed your hand" and let them know which way youíre leaning. Thatís a cardinal error.
  Snarling will ensue, and it could get ugly fast. If youíre going to sniff, do it subtly, like a little poodle. If you get the answer youíre looking for, start licking.
  But if you get the answer that puts you on opposite teams, my suggestion is to re-read my 12-step program for maintaining and cultivating relationships, at least for the next three weeks.

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