Ask Joe: Navigating Difficult Conversations
I’m pretty happy with the results of the elections. It could have been a lot worse. And I know there’s still a lot of work to do. But I’ve already heard from some family members who see the world differently that they are very upset and angry. I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with them and I don’t have the energy to deal with all that. Any tips?
Yes, I always get this question around this time of the year. Tension and anxiety are still high. Polarized viewpoints seem to be our new norm! While policy-making and social change are necessary, on some level, the real work of bridge-building and creating a civil, respectful society takes place around the kitchen table, and where we gather in a diverse community.
I’d like to refer back to some tips that I offered last year at this time. In spite of this polarized context, there are ways for you to take care of yourself during the holidays, while preserving or re-igniting the integrity of your relationships:
1. Set boundaries: Here’s an option: you have every right to respectfully say that you don’t want to have any conversations about politics and that you will respectfully step away if a conversation starts. Here’s another: if you are feeling confident enough to engage in conversations, make it clear, in a respectful way, that you are willing to discuss politics, but only if everyone involved is willing to listen with an open heart. If that is not agreed upon, then make it clear that you will be excusing yourself when those conversations begin.
2. Be curious: Notice your own words, practice silence and do your best to listen. The dinner table might not be the best place for others to hear your viewpoints. Consider your attachment to being right and to proving others wrong. If you listen to what others have to say, you may learn something new, or receive information you didn’t have previously, that might help you find common ground and peace at this time.
3. Love and compassion: If the people you will be spending time with are family or friends, remember how they have loved you, and how you have loved them. Though views evolve and connections can become strained, these bonds may transcend politics.
4. Daily practice: Find time to do the things that empower you and bring you balance and peace. Do practices that currently work for you – jogging, yoga, Tai Chi, etc. This can help you regulate your nervous system, and foster stronger connection to your heart.
5. Contact your support network: Sometimes connecting with allies can reduce the anxiety and tense emotions. Perhaps you can arrange with three of your trusted friends that if you need them, they will be close to the phone to help you ground and find balance. Offer to be a support to your friends as well.
6. Humor: See whether you can keep things light. Human beings – all of us – are pretty funny creatures. Humor is a great way to diffuse tension and reactive behavior and still stay engaged, without feeling like you are betraying your boundaries or integrity.
These are just a few ideas, Reluctant. Perhaps you have others? I’d love to hear about them.
We are navigating a time of tremendous transitions which offers challenges AND opportunities for growth. Resilience grows through respect; compassion and curiosity help us build bridges which we need now more than ever.
Sending you holiday wishes of peace, inner strength and compassion with yourself and others,
Learn more about Joe Weston and his work here. Make sure to check out Joe’s bestselling book Fierce Civility: Transforming our Global Culture from Polarization to Lasting Peace, published March 2023.
To Ask Joe, please submit questions to: AskJoe@Fulcrum.us.
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