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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Because a stranger called me a prostitute

Occasionally, an odd message will come through the blog or even directly to my personal email. They don’t comment on the topic at hand (trivializing breast cancer, embarrassing myself, hating exercise). Instead, they want to use my small platform to peddle their own ideas or products. Probably most cancer bloggers have had at least one herbal-happy loon suggest we attack our tumors with green tea and meditation because chemotherapy is an evil scheme. I’ve only had to block a few weirdoes, which is saying something in this increasingly say-anything-at-all world.

One reader suggested that my willingness to stand naked before anyone but my husband and undergo life-saving surgery was a profound disobedience to God. We in the Shittiest Sorority should submit to His plan regarding our cancers, and die (or not) according divine whim instead of disrobing for surgeons. BLOCK. But it disturbed me enough that I still remember it three years later.

Today I received a bizarre email from a man trying to strike up a jokey relationship based on the conceit that I am being held in this marriage against my will as an “American Comfort Girl.” An actually creepy, deeply racist stranger found a picture of my family on line and wanted to ridicule the outlandish idea that I had married an Asian and birthed these two bastard half-breeds. He wanted to help me “escape.” I couldn’t delete and change all of my passwords to everything fast enough.

This screen-polluting email made me even angrier that there wasn’t a true apology for this. (I won’t link directly to the disgusting clip.) When something that ugly is laughed off as lighthearted fun, it can lead to other jokey offences, actual on-the-street, go-back-to-China shouting, and possibly prompt a message from a stranger suggesting I am a prostitute to the husband I adore.

Our current political climate has reminded us that we’ve only been putting makeup over our hate-filled pustules of racism and sexism. We’ve looked good enough for the school pictures, but it’s time to lance these boils. Maybe someday we’ll actually credit the billionaire bully for exposing what has obviously been simmering and spreading below the surface for too long: fear and misunderstanding of different skin, beliefs, and women in general. And you know, it’s not helpful to simply wag a judge-y Facebook finger at the orange ego-maniac who has been caught on tape, or the white man who made an actual video demeaning an entire town of Asians. We’re going to need to do more than that.

Only one generation ago, it was against the law for Bernie and me to be married in many states. Some of our parents, just 20-30 years ago, warned us not to date other races “because it would be difficult for your children.” And those were the thoughtful, modern parents who weren’t overtly racist. And you know what? They weren’t wrong. Last week, I had to explain to my boys why an entire “comedy” segment on a popular news program made fun of people that look like them… and why no one said, “sorry.”

Have you honestly never been complicit and quiet in the presence of downright rape-y language about women’s bits? Do you publicly chastise the jerk (maybe even a family member) who makes the offhand Asians-with-cameras or black-neighborhoods-where-you’ll-get-shot comments? No. No you don’t. Not every time. And you definitely didn’t ten or twenty years ago.

And that’s ok. Not sure you’re changing minds doing that, anyway. But I bet you make damn sure that the kids within earshot get schooled. Dinnertime discussion at the Lee home has been nothing but race relations (complicated and problematic) and rules for talking about girls (only ever say nice things). Exhausted, exasperated, and frankly kind of grossed out with the topic (God, aren’t we all?), Teddy pushed back from table exclaiming, “I’m still PRE-pubescent! My voice hasn’t even changed yet! Do we still have to keep talking about this weird stuff?” Well, Teddy, yes we do. But last night, this picture went viral, and gave me a glimmer of hope that future locker rooms will be filled with actual feminists.

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Young men at Centennial High School, showing us how to combat the overwhelming ickiness on the news.

Unlike other angry outbursts catalyzed by news reports of truly gross behavior, mine is not political. I don’t care about the election (this year). Vote, don’t vote. Whatever, dude. But I do care profoundly about how you and I treat each other, how we talk about and to each other, and how we raise our boys to be champions for women. It’s time to get our multi-colored asses into pews or temples or mosques or yoga studios or Soul Cycle. Where do you go to tap into your sincerest, We Are the World feelings? I need them. And so do our kids.

 

In Defense of Journalists… by Steve Safran

Journalists know they are doing a good job when they get hate mail from both sides of a story. By that metric, most political journalists have been doing an excellent job this political season. While I no longer cover news, I write about television and social media. I did produce coverage of the New Hampshire primaries for an online news organization earlier this year, but that’s been the extent of my official reporting. And, since we’re in an era of everyone crying “Bias!” you should know my bias right up front:

People have to shut the fuck up about how journalists are covering this election. Now.

Let’s get this right out of the way: Journalists lean liberal. They don’t deny it. They go into the profession with the idea of changing the world, taking on government and speaking truth to power. They do that, knowing the job does not come with a lucrative salary. Those are not the personality types of a conservative.

Having said that, I am a conservative in a liberal profession. I am a conservative who does not like Donald Trump. There are my biases.

If I had to distill the biggest complaint people have about “The Media” this campaign it is this: The media created Donald Trump in an effort to get ratings, and now they have to expose him as a fraud.

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard that Donald Trump tells lies? For that matter, is there anyone who thinks the media has gone easy on Hillary Clinton? And does anyone think that a person who has decided to vote for either candidate would change their mind if they were to read, in “The New York Times,” that their candidate lied?

It is not the job of the news to call news subjects names. Journalists are supposed to tell you what happened, and leave it to you to decide how you feel about the topic. You’re not going to see “Hillary Clinton (D): Hides Emails” and “Donald Trump (R): Lies a Lot” as their titles on TV.

Reporters are operating under unprecedented conditions. One candidate puts them in a pen, calls them names on Twitter, mocks them on live TV and even has them arrested. The other candidate won’t even speak to reporters in a formal setting. So we have a campaign in which neither candidate wants anything to do with the media, and yet the media is called irresponsible. Face it: the candidates are the reason their own coverage sucks.

When you heard there was an explosion in Manhattan Saturday night, you may have first found out about it on Twitter or Facebook. What did you do then? You went to cable news. And you saw great coverage. On Twitter, people were screaming about terrorism and ISIS and all sorts of as-yet unfounded theories. Good journalists don’t do that. They report the facts. They tell you what they know and what they don’t. We need these people on the street– people who are willing to go where a bomb just exploded and tell you what they found out.

Journalism as a profession is a skeleton of what it used to be. Newsrooms are decimated. Newspapers have either gone out of business or drastically cut staff. Reporters are asked to write, tweet, shoot video, post on Facebook, use Instagram and still file a complete version for the web and the next day’s newspaper. Bias? They’re biased toward getting six hours of sleep.

They do this in an industry where the median salary is $38,095. Oh– and it’s a job that CareerCast ranks as the worst job in America, right below pest control.

A word about “The Media.” There is no “The Media.” There aren’t daily meetings to decide how to advance the liberal agenda. There is no consensus. There are conventions, and they are full of seminars on how to improve coverage, have good relations in the community and other ways to improve your skills. There are also free drinks (…but fewer than there were 15 years ago).

Did TV give too much coverage to Donald Trump early on? Yes. He made for good TV. And because he was on TV so much, the newspapers couldn’t ignore him. As for the accusation that TV news put Trump on because he was good for ratings: Guilty. These are businesses. People demand high-quality coverage, but aren’t willing to pay for a newspaper or website. You have to get ad money somehow. I love it when people razz us with, “So– trying to sell more newspapers?” Yes, yes of course we are. We make $18 an hour. We could use the extra $1.25.

But nobody forced people to vote for the man. CNN could have aired a five-knife juggler cracking jokes as a Presidential candidate, and it would have been great TV. I don’t think the juggler would have received many votes, though. Don’t blame reporters for not asking Trump the tough questions. They ask. He doesn’t answer. Or he answers with outrageous statements that used to get candidates disqualified– and he gets more support. This is asynchronous warfare now. I would argue that showing Trump’s press conferences did a world of good by showing people exactly the kind of person he is. It just turned out that he is the kind of person those voters want.

Hillary Clinton gets away with plenty, too. Her supporters should really demand more of her. She is running a campaign not to lose. She isn’t running to win. I can tell you five of Trump’s plans off the top of my head. I can’t tell you what Hillary plans on doing, because it keeps changing and because she answers questions on substance with a “We’re going to look into that.” You should really want more from her. The Clintons don’t answer so much as put together pre-tested words and hope a sentence comes out.

So, with all of these problems– candidates that don’t talk, jobs that don’t pay, reporters hoping they’re not fired tomorrow– miraculously, the news still goes on. Media bashing is a fine political tradition. But when it becomes a habit of the public, it is dangerous. Hold the media accountable, by all means. But consider the alternative. These guys hate the Republicans. Those guys hate the Democrats. Everyone hates the media. The alternative is a one-party state with no press.

And in those places… you’re not allowed to complain at all.

 

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