This blog is about reflections and frankly, I'm fatigued. Well, maybe stressed is more descriptive. 2020 was a difficult year, a frightening year, one of loss and uncertainty. At the end of 2020, we thought we could just write off the year and start fresh with 2021. I don't know about you, but 2021 has pretty much sucked. Yes, we have a vaccine. Yes, we know what to do to stop the spread of an aggressive virus. Yes, we know we need to be kinder, more inclusive and more aware. And yet we are still debating merits of mask wearing and vaccines. "My body, my choice" is a popular phrase. (Of course if you are a pregnant woman in Texas, you are an exception to this phrase.) Armchair "scientists" seem to know more than the actual scientists. Politicians have become experts on disease prevention. And the efforts to address systemic racism tend to be alienating the very majority that truly has the power to make the changes and address the underlying symptoms that are the very foundation of this country. It's just sad and I could go on and on, but why further fatigue and stress out myself and you.
Communities are divided. Families are divided. And guess what?? Holidays are just around the corner! Let's just keep piling on the stress factors!!
So how do we navigate this holiday season with our family and friends? The conventional wisdom is to avoid difficult conversations in the interest of keeping the peace. To support the growing movement of creating change, I'm going to suggest that avoidance is no longer an option. Silence tends to perpetuate individualistic thinking, racism, and exclusive behaviors. Yet, how scary is it to speak up when a family member or friend says or does something that is a sucker punch to your own values? What do you do? First, you have to decide what is right for you. Maybe it is curtailing the amount of time you spend with offensive family members. Maybe it is creating your own traditions without certain family members. Or maybe it is time to speak up in a respectful yet authentic manner. If you are interested in expressing yourself (and perhaps modeling positive behavior), using "I" language is a non-threatening way to express the impact of someone else's words or actions that are offensive and create conflict for you. And if you don't verbally express this, you can instead "think" in terms of "I" language. For example, instead of saying (or thinking), "You are a racist.", try: "I feel angry at you when you call a person of color lazy because it makes you sound ignorant (or "that's not my experience") and would appreciate it if you would keep those comments to yourself". I offer the option of "thinking" in addition to verbally expressing because maybe it is not safe or you and the other party are not ready for a verbal exchange. However, this prepares your own reflexive response that shifts from attacking to impact language.
Avoiding doesn't build bridges and we really could use more building and less blowing up of bridges these days. We make assumptions about others without realizing how much we actually have in common. Taking time to have meaningful dialog and creating space for differences are first steps. Listening for understanding and empathizing with each other helps us to get along and be better together. Yes, it takes effort, a lot of effort. And yes, I know we are already fatigued but this is the type of "workout" that gives us energy, that strengthens relationships and stops us from being divided.