We are coming closer to the Thanksgiving holiday where families can finally come together, reunite and connect with loved ones they may not have seen for years. For some this is a stressful time where reconnecting means preparing for intellectual battles and the anticipation of anxiety and frustration is growing. Many of us may be thinking back to last year where we came together (physically or virtually) in the heat of opposing views, opinions, political ideals and values. You are not doomed to repeat the ritual of arguing and exploding on one another if you are willing to put the effort needed to keep the peace and put the relationship first.
If you haven't been written out of the will yet and feel unprepared emotionally for coping with triggering topics and frustrating views, here are a few ways to address this so you can make it to pumpkin pie in piece.
1. Choose your battles
Before you get into a contest of who is right, stop and take a good look at your opponent. Who is this person in front of you? Can they even hear your side? Are they at all open to other opinions? We tend to get frustrated when we feel invalidated and unheard, and entering a conversation with someone unwilling to hear you can be disappointing and start the cycle that may possibly impair your relationship.
You may have a burning desire to discuss something or feel the urge to change someone's mind, but we can't control other people's opinions. Try stopping before you get into a heated discussion and check with yourself if this is a worthwhile battle. You can always change the topic or if needed, leave the room. Remember, not everyone needs to know your opinion, especially if it will fall on deaf ears.
2. Ask questions
If you decide that this is a worthy opponent, be open to asking questions. This simple act helps the other person feel heard, and more likely to listen to your opinions on the matter. Use your questions to really understand their point of view and where they are coming from. They may get frustrated from all your questions, but remind them this is your way of really understanding them and respecting their beliefs.
3. Be curious
Make sure your questions are coming from a place of curiosity, rather than judgment. Refrain from leading questions in the attempt to set them up to prove your point. The other person will be less reactive and more open to having an intellectual conversation rather than a yelling match. Changing into a curious mindset may also provide an opportunity to get to know your loved ones in a different way and get to the root of why they believe what they do.
4. Be confident
If you are willing to enter an argument about something you care about, make sure to know what you are arguing! We can be quick to enter a disagreement to prove a point or out of reactivity to someone who has a different belief system (or just annoys us). Make sure that your facts are based on evidence and sources you can back up. This will not only prove your point effectively, but it will also provide confidence in yourself. This is also helpful for those who get flustered easily when engaging with a more assertive/aggressive person, as you will feel prepared for the debate.
5. Accept that your facts don't work for everyone
Facts are things or information "known and proven to be true". Facts should be universally accepted, however, everyone seeks truth from different sources, news feeds, opinion bases and belief systems. This makes the concept of "facts" very controversial these days. We need to accept that even if you have concrete evidence, not everyone will follow or agree with your fact source. We cannot force our evidence on others. No matter how much research we have to show it doesn't mean it will be heard or acknowledged.
Hopefully, you can both agree to have an open mind about the sources and look them up to check their validity. This comes at the risk of feeling defeat or of the other person experiencing the shame of being proven wrong. Don't get defensive or be a sore winner; just accept the outcome with grace and humility. Remember that you chose to enter this discussion, and they might not have the insight of this choice.
6. Agree to disagree
We can't win them all. You gave it your best shot and were not able to convince them, but the real success is not entering those explosive arguments where relationships are impaired and feelings are hurt. We sometimes need to let go and agree to disagree for the sake of the relationship and the comfort of the gathering. This may mean being the bigger person and letting go, even if the other person sees this as a defeat. You can always try again next year!
*Please give respect to those mourning this day by remembering and talking about the genocide of indigenous peoples of America. If you wish to learn more please visit https://www.ncai.org/ and check out the following:
The Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, Wampanoag: http://www.uaine.org/suppressed_speech.htm
Thanksgiving: A Native American View by Jacqueline Keeler: http://www.purewatergazette.net/nativeamericanthanksgiving.htm
Next year remember to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in California on Oct 12!