During the holidays, our goal and objective is to have a peaceful gathering of family and friends. Peace is not lack of conflict, it is the ability to manage conflict by peaceful means. But is it possible to simply just avoid conflict when so many are outspoken about their beliefs? Probably not, however, that should be our objective.
Conflict is inevitable, whenever humans live together. However, it can be set aside for a greater purpose, such as fellowship, thanksgiving, worship, and helping others. Dutch clergyman Henri Nouwen wrote that we find “words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.” That is how we should approach interaction with family and friends over the holidays.
In modern times families have more commitments, and often there is a geographical distance between members of the family. Historically, families do not gather together like they once did. It would seem then, in the few minutes or hours that you may be with families and friends you can lay aside politics, and other items that divide families, ignoring past squabbles. Simply enjoy the company of other people and give a moment of gratitude for our lives and blessings. Failure to avoid conflict, may mean that some members avoid future family gatherings. When that happens, everyone loses.
If you are sincere about making memories with people that you love the most you should avoid political talk and probably turn off the news. Work on reconnecting with family and friends. Start new or enjoy old family traditions. If you are religious, do not change your belief to accommodate people who have entered your home. They already know who you are, and should respect it. If you watch football or play football do that. Watching the Macy Day’s parade on television on Thanksgiving was a tradition in my home. Use laughter to defuse awkward conversations. Remember the adage, it is hard to argue with food in your mouth, especially dessert.
Make the effort to create a relaxed environment. Be focused to all your family relationships in between holidays, so that hurt and resentment don’t build up in between visits. Time is important. Set a time to start and a time to conclude an event. We all have that family member who overstays their visit. If you are not certain who that family member is, it’s probably you. Also, make sure you do your part to help out. Hosting a family holiday is a lot of work.
Family holiday time is not the time for therapy. Turn to professionals for that, and handle in private. It is important to be reminded that you are not forced to spend time with people who are harmful to your mental health, even if they are your relatives. However, with proper ground rules and a positive attitude you can avoid conflict and reduce the stress, making the holidays successful for everybody. If you are still uncomfortable, have another piece of pie.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.