Tell Me More…tips for holiday harmony by Steve and Britt

 

‘Tis the season to travel great distances, to break bread with our loving families and friends, and to argue with them. It’s a time when we resume our childhood roles, and the oldest brother is suddenly in charge again, even if his little sister is 42. Cousin Larry, the successful businessman with the beautiful family, cannot escape the painful reminder from Aunt Linda that he used to be “so chubby.” Ben’s always late, grandpa drinks too much, that skirt isn’t doing her any favors, oh look at the baby! And inevitably this season, someone is going to bring up…

Politics.

Whoo, boy. Are we in for it or what? I’ve heard, anecdotally, that there are families who have made alternate holiday plans because of the Trump/Hillary divide. Millenials, in particular, don’t want to face Dad and his friends in the aftermath. How can it have gotten this far? When we argue and avoid or fracture our families, we are giving the politicians what they want. Despite what they say, politicians (yes– even yours) need a divided republic. Why? It’s good for business. A unified electorate would kill off one of the parties. That’s bad for both sides.

Why? Well, obviously the losing party still needs support. But the winning party needs an enemy. If it has total support, it doesn’t have a strong opponent to blame when it doesn’t get stuff done. And, be assured, politicians don’t want to get too much done. That hurts their chances of re-election. Whatever they say and do can and will be used against them in the court of public opinion.

When the subject of politics comes up at the Thanksgiving table (and it will), know this to be true: You cannot convince anyone of anything. You cannot win the argument. Blame “cognitive dissonance” and “confirmation bias,” my nominees for TIME magazine’s Things of The Year 2016.

People hate being told they are wrong—on line for sure, but especially face-to-face. I know I do. Even if your debater has the absolute best of intentions, being corrected makes you feel smaller. Being told you are wrong sucks, doesn’t it? Trust me when I tell you no one at the Thanksgiving dinner table is going to say “Oh, thank you for disabusing me of that notion.” Nope, they will resent you, and steal the last marshmallow-covered yam.

Try this, instead: listen.

Listen to what your friends and family have to say, whether it’s gun-toting Uncle Pete or your NPR-quoting neighbor. Draw them out. “Tell me more” are the three best words to use in a conversation. They make the person feel important and valued. They should feel valued! And when you cannot handle any more of the tell-me-more, trot this one out: “I hadn’t thought of it that way.” This might be harder to swallow than Grandma Marge’s green bean casserole, but give it a whirl for Thanksgiving’s sake.

“But I hate their candidate and everything that person stands for!” you say (or think really loudly with eye rolling). “Racist! Criminal! Chauvinist! Hypocrite!” OK. What are you trying to accomplish here? This is Thanksgiving, friends. It’s a time to pull a hammie tossing around a football, to fry a turkey in the driveway, to wonder how early is too early for cocktails, and to appreciate the people you love.

Still, you’re entitled to speak your mind. Here, it’s all about framing. I find the best way to get my point across is to acknowledge the other person’s point first. Then build upon it indirectly. Here’s an example:

AUNT IDA: I voted for Donald Trump. I just like him. He speaks his mind and he isn’t just another politician. That Hillary. She was stiff and I never trusted her. That email thing. The Clinton’s are so slippery and dishonest. I like that Trump is going to bring back jobs, so your Cousin Sarah can work again.

YOU: I hear you. Cousin Sarah has had a hard time finding work. But you know, these past couple of months, I’ve been thinking about the marches for women’s rights in the ‘70s. Growing up, you talked about the ERA and it made me realize women weren’t always considered equal to men. I learned that from you, Aunt Ida. I’m worried about how Donald Trump talks about women and the off-hand, demeaning remarks. That kind of talk–how did you handle that when you heard it in the office when you were working?

Aunt Ida is going to give you an earful about how she got pinched on the butt and called “sweetheart”– that’s how it was in her day. She may admit she didn’t like it, in which case you have an opening to talk a little more about the topic. But you have to keep the discussion about her (or Cousin Sarah). You’re not going to change her mind about those emails. But you might be able to personalize the discussion. And she may think a little more about it going forward.

This is how we can disagree without being hostile. This is how we can attempt to respect each other, and get through 8 hours of food prep for 23 minutes of eating without hurt feelings. Half of the voting electorate is not crazy. Sorry. We’re not all “loony liberals” or “crazy Republicans.” We’re not in separate baskets; we’re in this together. We need to give thanks for understanding. We need to reassure each other we still love our family and friends, no matter how they voted, no matter who holds the office. Your ballot choices shouldn’t spell the end of your relationship. Let it be the start of a conversation.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Approach this one gently.

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Whether you are hiding in the Target parking lot, dampening opinions with scotch, or pretending to watch football, find some solace with like minded sunny-side-uppers trying to find #ThingsWeAllAgreeOn

 

 

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What Will You Do?

Bernie and I never discuss our personal political views with our kids (or anyone, really). Both boys have pestered us on and off as to how we were voting. But since that first Republican debate in the summer of 2015, we’ve been turning that question around.

What would you do?

Of course, that was after the first of hundreds of devastating questions like, “what’s abortion?” Ooof. No matter how firmly I stand in defense of women between her bits and the government, a 10 year old asking with incredulous horror, “…so they kill the baby?” cannot (and should not) be dissuaded from a staunchly pro-life world view. Ten year olds aren’t ready for the complicated ugliness of partisan politics (are any of us?), and so Bernie and I only allowed them to watch from the sidelines, trying to answer their questions impartially about why everyone seemed so angry all of the time.

Kids have the best bullshit meters and it was refreshing to hear their untainted opinions. Bernie Sanders seems like a good guy. All of that stuff about Hillary can’t be true… but some of it probably is. The way Trump says, “China” is hilarious, but even the first graders at their school are better public speakers. They also would have appreciated being spared many dinnertime discussions about how to talk about and treat girls. They stayed up past school night bedtimes to watch adults shout into their echo chambers and not always tell the truth. As parents, our job was to explain, offer perspective, and to make sure they felt safe—to remind them that our American system has checks and balances. That no matter what, it was all going to be okay. We didn’t want them out in the world adding to the vitriol with parroted ideas from their parents. We tell them that expressing strong political opinions in public is impolite as it frequently devolves into more personal criticisms that are unkind. Kids understand unkindness better than we do.

On Tuesday morning, my thoughtful kid who has watched many hours of partisan news from both sides (when we let him) wondered aloud if we were even planning to vote this year.

I don’t think I’d vote for either of them, mom.

I think a lot of grown ups feel that way, too, kiddo.

So many months of nightly he-said-that, she-did-this news was impossible to shield from our fledgling teens. Even if we had turned off the TV and la la la clasped hands over our ears, they would have heard it all at school, or seen it on their phones. Their friends are old enough now to order their own red trucker hats on line or change their Instagram avis to H-arrows. Their teachers were sensitive to the fact that these small-ish, non-voting citizens might have feelings to share on Wednesday. Brodie’s history teacher devoted time to field their questions about the whys and hows of the electoral college. I was happy to hear that none of the kids was a gloating asshole, and devastated that some of these 13-year-old boys were fighting back tears.

That morning, after asking us for the umpteenth time how we voted and if we were happy or sad or angry, we told them the truth: we’re exhausted.

But mom, are you sad that a woman wasn’t elected?

And that was sweet. I’m the only girl in this house of leave-socks-everywhere boys. And I answered honestly. Yeah, a bit. But I’m also looking forward to a less complicated, future female candidate that lifts us up, unites us in spirit, and wears Chanel. (I’m not wearing a pantsuit for anyone. Ever.) We told them that there would be some sadness at school that day—that many of their teachers and 60% of voters in their home state were devastated by the election results. I drove them in, reminding them to be extra kind and gentle with everyone.

The cutest post in my feeds was the reaction of an adorable 6th grader whose response to surprising results was this:

Since Hillary didn’t win, I could still be the first woman president… couldn’t I?

You betcha, cutie. I hope it happens sooner than that, though. Also, let’s be honest, even a 12 year old might have some problematic images in her Instagram feed that would preclude future presidential electability– yet another reminder that what we are posting in the interspaces is written with a Sharpie.

Aside: I think people should be fined one hour of community service or $25 dollars to a non-profit for every negative meme they post. Really, quit it with those. If Michael Moore is right (and I think he is), this sort of cut and paste righteous anger is only reaching your bubble-mates who already agree with you.

I hope most of you have experienced what I have in the past few days: people hugging each other and saying hello and sharing morning after stories with kindness and hope. There’s a kind of steel-your-girders attitude in my little circles: take a deep breath, and dive back into the work of making the world a little prettier, safer, more fair. Steve has offered to help Julie get press for her incredible nonprofit to offer an inspirational biology course to kids from low performing schools. Kyra wants to know if we can swap stories about our do-gooding efforts to see where they overlap—maybe we can do more, give more? Jenny, the director of the Brookline Community Foundation, wanted to know how my kids were processing all of this (lots of you have asked that), and had seven great ideas on how to raise more awareness that 13% of our affluent town is living in poverty… and how to better assist those kids living in public housing. Al made five strangers laugh in the supermarket.

Though it is entirely American (thanks, Veterans!) to peaceably protest right now, I do hope we’ll pop our bubbles and go make each other laugh in the supermarket no matter what bumper stickers adorn our minivans. If you cannot shake the feeling that dark times are ahead, but you knew there were so many outlets for change that need all of us, I return to the question I posed to my boys back in 2015:

What would you do?

What will you do? Here’s what Kyra wrote:

Between the blog, Facebook, church coffee hours, the various fundraisers that both of us attend, not to mention the intimate moments that we have with our friends over wine, I’m hoping that we can make a network of nourishment and light for the local causes that will desperately need us right now. Would you be willing to work with me on this? 

You betcha, cutie.

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Aiming to be another in a long line of future females leaders of the free world!