Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Enjoy Holidays with Those You Love and (maybe) Make the World a Better Place

As the reality of changes in our country starts to settle in, during the turmoil in the change of administrations, our thoughts naturally turn to “How the hell are we going to get thru Thanksgiving!?”.

What if we just talked?

What if we talked in order to move forward, or maybe to decide IF we want to move forward?

We can decide not to ditch our best ideas as a nation, and not swing with the winds that seem to grip us right now.

If we can't agree on the best way to move forward, then it is crucial to start with our shared values, and to hear each other. Being mad and upset are often warranted. There are injustices, and sometimes horrible events (swastikas, murder of blacks, of police officers, etc.).

Moving forward doesn't mean to forget the past, or to be politically inactive, but rather to learn how to deal with what is, and find a way to make things better.

Hopefully you have friends and family who see things differently than you. It's how our best thoughts are developed, in my experience, through discussion and feedback, sometimes challenging feedback. I also hope you are close enough to people of diverse backgrounds, so close you easily share various beliefs and discuss. If not, this post is fundamentally about building/rebuilding trust so you can be heard and also hear their thoughts. 

(If you are really angry, btw, and need to vent, rail, or gloat, might be too soon to engage with people who want to argue, or make you defend yourself. Nothing will throw you off center like being mad as hell. Nothing wrong with being pissed off, but this post is about surviving the holidays and not about how to resolve all our differences - that takes more than a dinner or weekend together, and I'd propose we won't ever solve even most of our differences. This post is about how to reconnect to those you love, even if you don't understand them and hate or love the changes.)

These are my best practices and thoughts, based on years of personal research while living in “mixed” families (conservative/liberal/libertarian/green/feminist, north/south/midwest, black/white/Asian/Latino communities, LGBTQ, educated/uneducated, poor/wealthy, urban/rural, Christian/Jewish and SEC football).

[Disclaimer: I am white, Jewish, Southern, socially progressive, fiscally conservative, common sense bound. I can't know if this information applies across cultures, but it seems that the goal of being able to connect to and enjoy our friends and family is important for all of us. Would love to hear from people of color and other views, as long as all are respectful.]

Before You Get There

Find Touchstones
Our best touchstones are shared values – look for and remember what you share with the people you love or know. I’ve found that all my family and friends share these core values with me:
  • We love our families and especially our children
  • We are proud of our country
  • We love our history – national, local and personal histories are a source of pride, even if some is ugly. (acknowledging some is horrible : for Native Americans, for blacks, for many immigrants past and present, for women, for LGBTQ, for those in poverty - I feel this pain daily, tho I am white, educated, CIS, and fairly middle class)
  • We have all survived hard times, and it changes us. What we come to believe from our experiences may differ, but our experiences themselves are remarkably similar: deaths, births, marriages, divorce. Aging, ailments. We have losses and joys, pride and shameful events.
  • Our shared narrative builds connections, and connections build trust. Trust allows us the freedom to work on solutions, without fear of the Other. These people may see the world differently, but remember they are simply seeking the same respect you deserve.

Gut Checks

What are Your Goals?

Are you going to spend time with family and friends because you love them and want to build memories? Do you value your connections with those you love and perhaps family you married “in to” over the differences that separate you? If so, it makes sense to plan to have a good time. It’s also smart to be prepared.
If your goal is to try to change minds, you may want to consider a) Do you have a real chance of changing someone’s view if you try to force it? b) Could you be wrong on some things? c) Having an agenda is ALWAYS discernable. You know when they have one, and they know when you do.
When going home for the holidays, it helps me to remember other good times we’ve had, especially with those who don’t share my views. Holding those memories lets me not only look forward to seeing them, but allows me to remind them, given the chance, of our shared good memories.
I love to lower my expectations. If I can enjoy a great time when in a hectic pressurized environment, lovely. If it goes off the rails, well, I won’t be surprised. I’ll do my best to keep conflict down, and release my resentments and any other baggage. In advance! And I won’t be picking up and carrying around anyone else’s baggage/crap either.

Is This a Good Time to Visit?

Your ability to navigate these turbulent waters, or at least to do it well, depends on the nature of your life and mind set right now.
My reactions to the election results have moved from “Ok – wow.” To “Let’s get it.” stoicism, mixed with cynicism and hope, to concern, to heightened concern. Through all of this I see reconnecting with my family and friends as a crucial step in both holding this administration and congress accountable, and moving the country forward. So for me it’s a core value to be with family this holiday PLUS, I’m the The Momma. (see Power Base below). But being with family right now isn’t for everyone.
It is always ok to back off going to family events if that is what you need for you and your immediate family (thinking of children and partners here). You may decide you can manage a day trip, or will need a shorter visit. You may need to plan some relief time (away, either by yourself or with a small group) or have a friend to call or text if you get in a bad place.
Remember, the reason you are making the effort to see family and friends is because you love them, right? You don’t have to agree with them to appreciate the shared history, the new memories you are making, and to reconnect.
I’ve found I share values with the people I love – always. In difficult times it is very helpful to focus on the things you agree upon, rather than where you disagree.

Self Care

Many of us have learned that caring for ourselves is crucial for all the work we do in our lives. For me this was most difficult when the kids were little and I was working full time, or single parenting teens and working, etc. or working several jobs while I started a business. You get the point. Life is busy. Given the nature of employer expectations (lower staff, higher needs for productivity) and the multitude of demands in our lives, here is a good reminder: We can do no great things. We must do small things, with great love. (Mother Theresa).

To the extent that you are centered and balanced in your self, you will be able to offer more support to yourself during difficult encounters, and to the people you are talking with. Yuge bonus: you’ll be a better parent, partner, progeny, sibling, friend, etc. to those you love.

Self-care looks like this

getting enough sleep, remembering to eat well, actually eating well, allowing more time to get things done, taking things off your plate, getting down to essentials, simplifying, lowering your expectations, taking breaks, taking walks, working out, having some silly fun, not over working in any arena, being able to be kind and firm with others and yourself, saying No thank you or Yes or Let me think about that when you need to, reaching out to supportive friends, journaling, breathing.

If you need to, make a list and keep it with you during the holidays. Notice when you are tense, hungry, lonely, tired or angry. Treat yourself as beloved, and you will be able to treat others this way too.

Power Check

Where are you on the balance of things? Can you risk a disagreement? Will you be baited or teased? Be aware that if you argue with the Grand Dame/Master of the Family, you may be in for automatic loss. If you ARE the head of the family, or a key figure, don't abuse it.

Be strategic, and engage only when it’s safe and there aren’t retributions / costs that are too high. If someone is paying your way through college, you gain more by finishing school without debt than by winning an argument.

Corrollary: Safety

Do you feel safe? Some discussions need to be away from larger groups. What does it take to feel safe? Are there certain people you feel are more open to conversation about sensitive topics? Is conversation with one person better than a small group?

There’s a Time for Every Purpose under Heaven

And a place. Consider where and when it might be good to have a conversation, and know when and where is not the best place. At a large dinner may be the worst option.

Some families are deciding in advance not to discuss politics. That's one idea and not a bad one. It can eliminate large discussions/disagreements, but allows that individual conversations happen.

If you think someone will bring up politics, you don’t have to engage/participate. If you think someone is going to challenge you, gloat or ask your opinion, be ready with an easy response. One great answer is “You may be right.” Powerful because you aren’t agreeing, but you aren’t disagreeing either.

Being authentic can also be powerful, “I have some dear friends who are [black, Hispanic, gay, old, sick, young, Muslim, sexual assault victim, Jewish, etc.] and they are really afraid of [_______] and I am worried for them.” 

Consider if people are drinking, and adjust your strategy accordingly. You may choose to leave early, or go do another activity if people get too attached to their drug of choice. Treat it like you would any other “not you” activity. If you hate football, you may already have some strategy for avoiding a big, loud game.

If you don’t drink, or are very moderate, you will be less likely to lose your cool in the face of those who may want to engage in debate.

Escape Routes – Have One

If you had a tired, fussy child or partner, or a bad knee, or some other challenge, it would be wise to plan for it before a social event. You may have to be prepared to exit graciously for the sake of the child, or because you knee makes you uncomfortable. In difficult conversations, give yourself a plan to get a break, get out and decompress if you need it.

When You Get There 


See if you can get agreement in advance to have a respectful conversation, and to take a break if it gets too heated. Then lead with something that states shared values, and good questions.

Curiosity - Seek First to Understand

Steve Covey, rest his soul, was amazing on this point.

Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised at how well it goes when I stay open and centered. Once a gnarly old uncle, who I loved for his sweet grumpiness, surprised me by stating emphatically a liberal position on some issue. The family and he were generally very conservative. I was shocked, but went on to have a nice conversation, with my reinforcing his belief (I think in the need for healthcare reform, something about insurance companies). For me it was a refreshing exchange, in spite of our many differences (religion, education, gender, political beliefs, etc.)  For him, it may have made me seem smarter, or maybe I just made it safe to say something he believed, in spite of the family history of rural conservativism. Either way, we connected and built a small but powerfully warm memory. I love this man, and accept his entire self, even the hard parts.

Have Open Questions

What do you really want to understand? What one thing tipped them most toward supporting Trump? What one thing would have made them not support Trump? Were there other candidates they preferred? Who would they make president if they could decide, and why?

 Don’t be a Punching Bag

I told my beloved conservative son last week I was not his liberal punching bag, as we ended a heated exchange via text. (Pro tip: don’t engage in difficult conversations via text or social media. Our ancient foremothers and fathers did face time, and broke bread together.) You can try to have a conversation, but be willing to give it up easily. If someone lets go of one end of a rope in tug of war, there is no fight. Just try to be nice when you let go.

Don't take Swings at People

No smirking. No Sarcasm. And never use your power to win a point forcefully, or hurt others. If you are smarter or more educated, be willing to consider that people who aren't may really resent you for seeming to lord it over them. And maybe you actually have done this in the past.  Own your part in any past conflicts.

Don’t Argue.

Discussions are ways to examine various views. Arguments and debates tend to be about proving each other wrong, or besting. Conversations explore and remain open, capturing nuances, and allow for contradictions (in views and feelings).

Be Compassionate

Nothing removes the fight like appreciating where someone is coming from. Remember a time when you appreciated someone being kind to you? And how good it felt to be kind when someone needed you to stand up for them? We can extend the same thoughtfulness to someone who sees the world differently. It doesn’t mean you agree with their conclusions.

My dear Mom keeps lots of things : food, extra clothes, useful tools, knick knacks, and beautiful antiques. She grew up in a wealthy home with all her material needs met. But at 14 her father died. Quickly the family fortunes disappeared in the inept care of the remaining partners in her Dad’s firm. After she worked her way through college, she married a man with a big heart, but uneven work history, just as his dad before him. As a result of her financial struggles, she doesn’t like to talk about money, or let the shelves get too bare. When I let myself remember why she finds it hard to talk about money, it’s easier to appreciate that I don’t have to know everything about her finances, even if I ask with the best of intentions (to help her carry her burdens, or to protect her).

Be Honest

No need to hide who you are. Ever notice how old people seem so comfortable with who they are? Imagine you are already old, (if you aren’t) and be honest without being hurtful.

Be Funny

If a chance comes up, to be funny, take it. Nothing dispels tension like laughter. Be careful that you aren’t mean spirited. Most of all, be willing to laugh at yourself.

Be Prepared and Brief

When I talk to anyone about my concerns about Trump I mention one or two key concerns, and then let it drop.

Sometimes bible scripture is a good supporting reference. I don’t use it often, but I can make biblical references with the best of them. It’s damn handy when I need it. This is not a suggestion for using sacred texts against people who believe. All our leaders have great ideas, or they wouldn't be leaders. It's good to quote them, when you can.

Talk about good experiences with people of other races / backgrounds/ beliefs too. It’s ok to talk about what surprised you. The kids at the mosque where I was at an interfaith dinner the other week were better behaved than my own, gracious and sweet, while still typical kids. If you don’t describe people who are “other” then some of your family and friends may never hear of positive experiences.


Diffuse it. If necessary, be direct. You can ask someone if they are being mean on purpose. What would you tell your kids or some younglings about how to handle bullies? You can do the same things for yourself.

Be Vulnerable

IF it’s safe, you can let your guard down. Sometimes the best breakthroughs in any tough conversation come from allowing that you are afraid or mad at yourself for something. Or admit you don’t know something. This also allows others to acknowledge what they don’t know.

Be Human

Naturally you’ll want to, as much as possible, follow rules of civil engagement: use “I statements”, keep your tone normal, and breathe. Remember to take breaks. Rome wasn’t built in a day. We have real work to do. And you don’t have to go it alone.

Let it Go

Speaking of scripture, I find that prayer helps me center myself, no matter where I am. I can pray right on top of a conversation. Down south we say “Well bless your heart.” And sometimes mean it. Some may meditate, some may need to move or clean or play. But it’s ok to just :

Change the Subject!

Totally legit way to take a break. Or be direct and ask for a break or wrap up. This is easier if you first let them know you'd like to continue talking about it later.

"Stick the Landing"/Finishing Well

It's good to end a tough conversation with appreciating the hard work it was for both of you. Even if you didn't agree on much, you can acknowledge where you did agree. Give yourselves credit. It isn't easy. But it's essential.

Reclaiming the Middle

Some think the two parties have lost touch with their voters, which allowed Trump to take control because he was willing to take beliefs of many working class (read, hard working folks) and galvanize that base. If we are willing to hear each other, we can be more effective in holding our elected officials accountable for their work. After all, they work for us. And we have the ability to make the world a better place. For us, for our children, for all.


If the Buddah Got Stuck, and anything else by Charlotte Kasl
Dance of Connection, and anything else by Harriet Lerner
Steve Covey – all of it. Everything he's ever written.

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