Part 1: The Extremes
This is a three part series packed with helpful tips and insights on how to navigate political debates with your family this holiday season. From calling out bullies to calling in our loved ones, this series will help you see yourself and your family with more clarity and possibility.
The holidays are a beautiful time to gather with family from far and wide to cherish the feeling of simply being together in a space that feels like home. So many, especially in this political climate, will not get to experience that togetherness this season. Whether it is the result of inhumane asylum and immigration policies or the chaos of a natural disaster, we need to hold one another close whenever we can. That is why, despite the harsh differences in belief and information, it is time to reach across the divide in our own families to foster possibility, empathy, and bolster our own personal accountability. In fact, it is truly our responsibility to do so if we have the chance. This is one small way we can begin to do the work of changing our communities for the better.
After many years of rage-filled shouting matches as well as challenging and isolating from certain family members, I want to share some thoughts and strategies that may spur the healing process and open the channels for actual generative conversations. If you come from a part of the country that subscribes to fake news or barely presidential tropes on twitter, this article is most definitely for you. If you come from an upper middle class, mostly white, liberal suburb or city, this article is also for you. If you have ever have had difficulty in talking to people in your family, at work, in your community, or in a friend group who use language or engage in behavior that steeped in prejudice this essay will be helpful to you.
There are varying degrees of Fake News sensibilities within each community, many of which are wrapped up in different constellations of prejudice and all of the “isms” it contains. It is important to gauge what you are working with when it comes to your own family. In 2018, we can clearly gauge what is obviously unacceptable in terms of speech and behavior. However, let’s start with the utmost clarity. It needs to be established that absolutely no racial slurs, LGBTQIA slurs, woman-hating, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant slander, or defending of rape or genocide will be allowed at any family gathering. Feel free to add or amend this in any way your see fit, and sort out what is most relevant to your family. Most likely there is one of these that will stick out to you. Take on what you know speaks to you and your family.
For many of us, the use of hate speech and prejudice is a long held memory of family time. It can be painful to look back at our experiences and it may cause us to feel hopeless when it comes to making a change. When I was growing up, it was common to hear my extended family members throw racial slurs around, make disgusting impressions of accents, and relay ridiculous anecdotes about why they were justified in doing so. Even as a young child, it hurt me and filled me with shame. I stopped bringing my friends along to parties or gatherings because I never knew what my family members might say or do, especially while drinking.
In my adulthood, I have found it very interesting that those same family members never speak this way any more. I like to imagine that it is because they suddenly became enlightened, or they felt bad when I confronted them or refused to attend a family function. But the true change occurred when they began having children. If you are speaking in ways that you would be ashamed for your children to hear, you need to check yourself. If you are speaking in ways that you would be embarrassed for your children to repeat, you need to have a serious check in with your head and your heart.
If you are speaking in ways that you would be embarrassed for your children to repeat, you need to have a serious check in with your own heart.
Reach Out Before You Call Out
If there are no small children in the equation and perhaps more alcohol involved, it may be advisable for you to take initiative in communicating with your family members ahead of a gathering. Don’t be afraid to speak up beforehand and calibrate where everyone is at. If this is an ongoing problem with a certain family member or two, then getting it out in the open via text allows for folks to react in the privacy of their own space. It gives them time to process and decide on what actions to take.
You can communicate in a text with some family members that may, at the very least, have a distaste for foul and offensive language: “I can’t sit silent while Uncle Larry uses racial slurs. If he can’t modify his language for one simple holiday meal, I will not be at the holidays. We are capable of so much better. There’s never a moment where that behavior is okay and everyone knows it. If Aunt Brenda would talk with him, that would mean a lot to me. If not, I’d be happy to call him myself and make sure he understands why that behavior is wrong and what is expected of him. I love him and I want us all to feel good this holiday.”
This may get you uninvited to your holiday. It also may mean that Aunt Brenda and Uncle Larry refuse to attend the holiday. It may also be the thing that opens up the gateway for other family members to speak up and grow closer. You are probably not the only one who dreads Uncle Larry’s company each year. If Aunt Brenda will agree to do the talking, that may be best. Again, it gives time and space for the family members to process on their own and avoid hurtful, reactive outbursts of emotions. It may be fine, short, and dismissive. It may also poke a sleeping giant. The degree of sensitivity that families can hold toward these issues should never be underestimated.
If you are willing to take a gamble and are still invited to your holiday, great! If you feel a sense of distance or discomfort from Larry, that is to be expected and it is nothing for you to worry about. If you do feel the urge to follow up, take him aside for a few minutes. This would be a good time to let him know that you’re glad that to be with him and you’re grateful that he’s respected your wishes and the wishes of the family. If it goes well, let him know that you’d love to talk about the issue over the phone someday soon. Be ready to follow up, but don’t force the issue. If he is using offensive racial slurs, then there is probably a lot of anger, fear, hatred, and resistance at play in his consciousness. It may be best to let it go for the time being and then revisit it after some time has passed and more clarity is gained. If you don’t feel emotionally able to take it up further, that is okay too. You already accomplished a lot before you even arrived at your holiday. Your self care is what is most important.
Call it Out, Call Them In
Let’s say there’s another outcome to deal with. Let’s say Uncle Larry played nice in the text and then got into a rant at the dinner table. Let’s say he let a certain word or phrase slip. There are clear ways to check him, while still leaving the door open for him to move through it. For example:
“That language is absolutely unacceptable and you know it. Everyone at this table knows it. We asked you nicely before you arrived to curb your speech. You will apologize to all of us right now, or you need to leave the table and think about the words that you feel so comfortable using in front of us. We love you, this is why we have to hold you accountable for such horrible behavior. If you don’t like how that feels, then you’re beginning to understand how awful it feels for us to hear you speak like this and to know that you feel this way.”
This also may get you kicked out of the holiday gathering. But if there is a show of family unity, let Uncle Larry sit with what you’ve just delivered. He’s literally been given time out. This is because he is acting like a child. In addition to using hate speech, he is essentially placing his own desires in front of his ability to respect the sanctity of his own family’s wishes. Children do this often when they don’t know better. Adults do this because they want to hear themselves talk, be argumentative, or to cement their ability to dominate through fear and hate speech. Let the family sit with the discomfort of that, and of their own implicit role in allowing this behavior to begin with. There may be tears, and there will certainly be some anger directed at you. This is how it feels to rip off the band aid. You may have to leave the gathering and that’s okay. You will find out where you truly stand with your family when you challenge what is broken and unhealthy within it.
Kicking It or Kicked Out
In conclusion, it is important to give space and time to family members when you are making a big ask of them. For such extreme behavior as was listed, simply outlining what speech is unacceptable is a very big ask. Be ready to deal with the consequences of your clarity. If you are outnumbered in your Fake News family, I commend you. It is not easy to stand up for what is right. When everyone around you has fallen off the deep end, it is up to you to take a stand and show the way back home. That can mean uncomfortable conversations, rough patches in relationships, and it may mean your absence from family gatherings. It can also mean generative conversations, stronger relationships, and a potential evolution of consciousness over time.
Going to the Grey
In Part 1 we’ve covered some extreme speech and behavior and how to tackle it before you get into physical space with your Fake News family members. This gives them a chance to react on their own and for a consensus to be reached that allows everyone to do what they need to do to take care of themselves. We also went over some language we can use in extreme scenarios as well as having the awareness that you may get uninvited to your family gatherings for speaking up.
In Part 2, we’ll get into the grey areas of loving and communicating with our Fake News family and seeing beyond the arguments. We’ll talk about holding two dissonant truths at the same time and the importance of holding yourself accountable first as you venture into this kind of shift with your loved ones.
Kate Faust is a singer, songwriter, and intuitive channel. Learn more about her at www.katefaust.com