I was in 8th grade when I first realized my father and I may not wear the same animal-shaped pin during election season. I won't bore you with early 2000's political nonsense, but let's just say I was gums deep in a dinner roll bite, expecting parental affirmation for casually delivering a monologue on how Shmorge Shmush should not allow shmoffshore drilling. The patriarch confidently dissented.
Shocked, and feeling like my acorn had been cast far from the proverbial tree, I had no idea how to move forward. All common ground felt lost. The conversation stopped then, and there. Though both of us love to debate, I felt more uneasy engaging in topics I knew divided us. Disagreement can be, and often is, uncomfortable.
Political faction at family gatherings is not unfamiliar. Other topics to make you feel uncomfortable include: "When are you getting married/having children?" OR "Why do you call your sister, but not your mother?" OR "Oh you started a new job? Not teaching anymore? Oh, did you do it to make more money? No? A nonprofit? For what? ...you mean like what they do with Drew Carey?"
There are usually two choices for those around the table of differing opinions: ignore or engage. Families are all different and I'm sure ignoring "works" for some of you. It seems to be the choice of many in this time of fake news and violent protest. Continue discussing the change in foliage, Cheston.
BUT, what if you took this opportunity to grow and dig and learn from one another? If you choose to engage, you probably feel a bit terrified, ill-prepared, and perhaps not in the mood to cry in your sweet potatoes. I offer you one little bit of improv wisdom as you enter the ring: focus on process.
In improv, the process IS the product. Instead of trying to convince your family to move to your side of the argument (HOT TIP: it probably won't ever happen this way, if ever at all), find success and joy in merely having the conversation.
Three things to keep in mind:
1. Stay right there with them, in the present moment. Look them in the eye. Direct your body toward them. Listen intently, and with focus. Don't be crazy, you can still glance at your plate so the gravy goes on the potatoes and not the pie. Just, be truly present. This gets a bit trickier when more people are added to the conversation, but maintain as much genuine connection as possible.
2. Let go of the end game. Follow a path that you create together through the conversation. Listen and respond in the moment, without directing. You are both in charge. Your dialogue will naturally pull and push. You are *probably* not going to "solve" anything today.
3. When you find something you agree on, even if it is very small, celebrate it. Keep going. Courageously and radically agree. It is brave to do so. Maybe you can even find joy and humor in your topic. (HOT TIP #2: Jokes might work, but it's far more genuine to find the funny parts of truth and reality. Humanity is robustly comedic on its own.)
Be brave. Remember that your family (or friends, or whomever you choose to spend the holiday with) loves you. If they don't, then get out of there! You can come to my house instead. I have pie.
It may feel difficult to approach a tough conversation this way if you are the only one playing by these "rules". In my experience, if you're not worried about "winning" the conversation, then it doesn't matter. You are engaging in the process, and that is heroic. Just like the pilgri...you know what, never mind. Happy Thanksgiving.
*This post is entirely anecdotal, and from pure personal experience. It is not always easy to approach family conversations this way, but it has worked for me. If you have something to add, or edit, comment below!