Navigating Holiday Gatherings
Is there a part of you dreading Thanksgiving or other holiday gatherings because of tension over differing opinions? Will asking your college-aged son to pass the potatoes evoke the first statement: “Hmm… packing in the carbs like the Republicans are packing the Supreme Court, huh?” Or when Granny says that she hopes there’s enough food for everyone, will Uncle Bob call her a Socialist? Aaaaannd we’re off to the races.
The primary factor in the futility of trying to “enlighten” someone to your way of thinking is that political dogma is less about facts and more about feelings. And feelings often do not play by the rules of logic. Our fears (what media outlets play on to get views/clicks) of what a certain party plans for the country tend to shunt us toward the ideology of any group holding those same fears. From here, one of our basest needs for belonging and being supported by similar people is met. It feels good. It feels so good that to open ourselves up to opposing opinions is playing with fire. A fire that threatens with the burn of rejection from our “tribe.” That’s why some folks will argue that water isn’t wet if that fact runs counter to their ideology.
So if the common suggestion to steer clear of politics is simply not realistic for you and your family for whatever reason, R. Kleinfeld and A. Sobel, from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, have some suggestions for dialing down the chances of hurt feelings and anger this holiday season (comments are mine).
Be willing to call out your own party.
Every group has its hypocrites, doofuses, and fringe members who behave extremely. Acknowledge it publicly. It will lend you credibility when you eventually (and respectfully) defend your own position.
Avoid dehumanizing jokes about the other group this (and every) holiday season.
It’s fun, but it’s mean and will only stoke the fire.
Don’t repeat misinformation.
Repetition of something leads our brains to think there’s some truth to it. Look up several media bias graphs that chart the bias and reliability of the multitude of news outlets out there. This will help you recognize whether an outlet is biased and sketchy or unbiased and reliable (this one assumes that you want the truth… right?)
And here are a couple suggestions of my own…
Be nice! It’s the holiday season!
This is laughingly simple as an idea but so difficult! Snark is easy when your emotions are triggered. Be mindful of your breath this holiday season. It will help keep you calm and using a tone and body language that doesn’t provoke during heated discussions.
Emphasize the authentic feelings underneath your opinions.
This will require more reflection on your part, of course. Example: “When (enter fine public servant who’s never had a real job here) talks about beefing up the budget of (enter waste of tax dollar program here), it scares me because that might divert money from (enter worthwhile program here).” See, you didn’t call that fine public servant an idiot; you just talked about your feelings. Emotions such as fear, sadness, anger, confusion, etc., are relatable to everyone and they let others see your humanity rather than viewing you as just another propaganda-spewer. Try to elicit the same from people with opposing points of view, and then also try to empathize with the feelings that prop up their beliefs. You don’t have to agree with their belief to do that. It’s actually possible to do while passing the potatoes this holiday season.
This post is by Ted Crawford, LMFT
About Ted Crawford, LMFT: Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services
Ted Crawford LMFT, provides psychotherapy for clients through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) of Forrest General Hospital and at the Gratitude and Pine Grove Outpatient Services (PGOS) programs of Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services. He earned his undergraduate degree in Education in 1987 and his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy in 1995 from The University of Southern Mississippi. Crawford has also completed training in the use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to address trauma issues. His background includes work as an educator prior to coming to Pine Grove. In addition to working at the EAP, Gratitude and PGOS currently, Pine Grove has also benefitted from Ted’s work at the Child & Adolescent Day Treatment and Professional Enhancement Programs and on the inpatient adult psychiatric unit. He enjoys writing and has written numerous informative (and entertaining) articles on clinical topics in a format that is easily understood by both professionals and patients. Ted Crawford has been employed with Pine Grove since 1998 and working with the EAP since 2001.
About Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services
Located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services is one of the nation’s most comprehensive treatment campuses. Pine Grove’s world renowned programs treat gender specific chemical addiction including specialized tracks for co-occurring eating disorders and trauma. Additionally, Pine Grove offers an Intensive Outpatient substance abuse healing program for adults and a separate treatment program specifically for those who are age 55 plus. Other Pine Grove specialty programs include a dedicated professional’s treatment curriculum and a comprehensive evaluation center. Pine Grove also features a program for patients with sexual addiction. Inpatient Services including an Adult Psychiatric Unit, along with a Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit, and Outpatient Services are other components. Pine Grove is a division of Forrest Health, a partnership of healthcare organizations across South Mississippi, and the behavioral healthcare extension of Forrest General Hospital, a 547 bed, level II Regional Trauma Center. Established in 1984, Pine Grove has provided nationally and internationally recognized health care for 36 years.