Thanksgiving. Time to dine with that angry relative. You know who. They’ll insult people you identify with and support their prejudice with “fact.” Your relative hates XXX people. You have to face them this Thanksgiving. You are dreading it.
First. Everyone is feeling a similar tension.
Stress: Are you feeling anxious? Are you feeling unsure about whether things you read are true? Join the club! When people are anxious or angry, their stress hormones are in an uproar. It’s not just you, it’s anyone who feels out of control. The relative is anxious, too.
Safety: To make ourselves feel better, we identify with a group, a leader, and a set of principles. This creates a marked decrease in empathy for people not in your group. The relative does it; we do it, too. We just have a different group that we dismiss. Progressives in Appalachia get sick of hearing that they don’t exist. Red-neck jokes and dismissing the white working class is not the way to go. Insulting Fox News won’t get you where you need to go.
Defense of safe haven: When you dismiss their principles, you dismiss them. So don’t. When you dismiss a group of people, any people, you shut down empathy in yourself, too. Then people feel that dismissal and get more angry.
What to do instead
I believe that change happens between people who have some affinity. There are many people who share some of your core values, but not other values. That is the place where change can happen. Show them, by example, how your life and values make sense. People who make relationships outside of their own bubble, even a little beyond it, are part of the solution.
Find points of agreement:
- We all want to be safe.
- We all want to be prosperous.
- We all want to be respected.
You can then say that you have a different idea about how to get to safety, prosperity. and respect for everyone we care about.
That’s why I teach verbal self-defense and how to stand your ground about your own values with people you know. When you stand up for your values at work, with friends and with family, anyone who hears you could be changed. You won’t know how your story impresses someone else. You can be the person who changes others by showing up and being a model of a person who makes sense.
What not to do
If you want to be a good ally to the people that your family disrespects, there’s one more thing you should do. Actually not do:
Do not talk about your dreaded Thanksgiving conversations to the people in the targeted group.
- They do not need to know that your relatives are among the people who hate them.
- There is probably nothing in your hateful Thanksgiving conversation that your ally has not heard before.
- It is not their job to pat you on the back for being an ally. It is just your job to be an ally.
- If you want to discuss tactics, talk to people in your own identity group first, before you ask someone in the targeted group.