People who would normally be able to have civil conversations around the holiday dinner table find that moods are elevated, and voices are raised, not in celebration, but in anger and disdain.
Heated topics may include:
Vaccine acceptance vs. vaccine refusal
Mask wearing vs. mask hesitancy Who won the 2020 election?
Whether the election was stolen
Whether the events of January 6, 2020, were an Insurrection or a typical tourist visit
The Black Lives Matter movement
When parents are raising their children, they generally have an expectation that thee children will embrace their values. What happens when they don’t?
Two narratives come from the literary world. The first is the book Educated, by Tara Westover. It is the story of a woman who was raised in an abusive, rigid, fundamentalist, anti-science, cult-like environment. She was denied an education and was terrorized by her family. She managed to escape and went on to become a Harvard and Cambridge educated historian. She has freed herself from the terror of her family and has no contact with them, including her physically and emotionally abusive brother and her sister who initially told Tara that their brother had a pattern of assaulting the sister too, but then recanted when her parents said they didn’t believe her.
The second is Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman by Abby Stein. Abby was born into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family with a lineage of Rabbis. She was gender-assigned at birth as male, was groomed to be a Rabbi, married a woman, fathered a child and then in 2012, had gender affirming surgery and claimed her true identity. The result was that she left her community and family and was shunned by them. She is an internationally known Rabbi, writer, speaker, model and trans rights advocate.
These are both extreme examples of polarization of family values. The likelihood that these two women will reunite with those with whom they were raised is minimal.
There may be hope for other families with members who see the world through different lenses. Some ideas:
Approach the controversial topics with a sense of curiosity. Where are their beliefs coming from?
- Be willing to listen with an open mind and open heart.
Consider that if you had their beliefs, and viewed the world the way they did, you might make the same statements and take the same actions.
- Introduce them to your perspective without being dogmatic.
- Do your best not to dehumanize those with different views.
- Realize that what we would label political beliefs are sometimes considered someone’s identity, which means it might be harder for them to relinquish their beliefs.
- Consider that identifying as Republican or Democrat, Gay or Straight, Liberal or Conservative, might indicate a sense of belonging and a ‘family of choice,’ that might overshadow that of one’s family of origin.
- Avoid stereotypes based on identity politics. Those who belong to certain groups are not monolithic in their beliefs.
One caveat: when you have been in someone’s presence because their rhetoric and actions are trauma triggering, give yourself complete freedom to decline their invitations.