No! Don’t avoid them; meet them, those disturbing Relatives you must meet over the holidays. Neat them where they are intellectually and emotionally.
Why are those relatives so disturbing in the first place?
We care about them. Relatives are the ones we are related to. When you identify yourself you use names that connect you to your relatives. You don’t use words that connect you to your job or town in the same way. Thus they are important and give you your identity.
You have a long history with them. They are the ones you learned to relate to most intimately. That means you made mistakes and found ways to relate.
But the pains of those mistakes persist. You failed them and they failed you. Those failures left you with mistrust and defenses.
Do those defenses serve you or your family now? Probably not. Those defenses are where we restart when we meet again over the holidays.
We need to deal with those defenses, because we will be relating to these people for a long time to come. It was with these people that we learned to relate to others. And it is with them that we can learn to relate better with others.
When we meet people casually we don’t expect the relationship to last forever. Yet with relatives our relationships will last. Many of them were at your birth. You met most of them in your youth. They are expected to come to your funeral or you to theirs. That means these will be the longest lasting relationships you will have in your life.
So you need to make them the best relationships you have. No, I don’t say we should live only among family. Yet, it is among family that we can try out new ways of relating and see how our family members face the consequences.
Many of the problems we have among families mimic those we have among casual relationships.
So, why not use the holiday gatherings as a time to find new ways to relate? Ways of relating that work for everyone.
One of the biggest things people want out of relationships is respect. When we feel disrespected we have been taught to confront and demand that respect. The U.S. is fighting many wars because we don’t feel that others respect us. Our fellow citizens have been attacked because they are Americans.
On the personal level, what makes us feel respected?
The feeling of respect comes from being understood and how do we understand each other? Is it not by listening?
Listening is a skill that many of us could do better. In school we learned to parrot what the teacher said. But there is much more to listening than just the words that are used.
When we talk and act there are reasons for doing so. Those reasons stem from needs and wants. Often we cannot put words to those needs and wants directly. We are sending coded messages.
When we decode those messages incorrectly others don’t feel heard. Yet, we never pause to check if we are hearing correctly. I often find I am more in a duel, trying to mediate situations where what they say will be untenable. Does such a contest develop understanding and respect or antipathy?
If we wish to understand we need to let them expand on what they are trying to say. Questions like, “tell me more.” “How would that work out in a way that would be even better?”
While you are listening you need to ask yourself such questions as, “What does this person really need from me?” “How can I meet that need?” if you focus your attention on these issues and not try to defend yourself you will learn to understand why your relatives choose to vote for the other guy, or believe differently from you on the many social issues that divide us.
If there is time, ask them to tell you how they came to their stance on an issue. You may then be able to share your stories without saying one another might be wrong.
How else might you talk with your relatives in Peace while saying your own piece?
I hope you have a great Thanksgiving and the rest of the holidays.
As All Ways, Seek Joy,