Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit, we’ve officially entered the holiday season! 2020 has been a wild one, and with the blur of the last several months of COVID chaos and political crap, it’s hard to believe we’re already prepping our stuffing to be smothered in gravy. This year’s festivities might be a little different than we’re used to, and not just because we’ve grown accustomed to that hermit life.
Maybe you couldn’t give two turds about wearing a mask and have been chugging from random beerbongs on a beach. Maybe you’ve been self-isolating at home and wearing a hazmat suit to protect yourself from your extroverted cat. Regardless of where you lie on the spectrum of pandemic caution, chances are some of your fellow feasters have taken on a different perspective, and not just in the realm of hand washing.
This has been an unprecedented year of uncertainty and polarity. Tensions are higher than the poor schmuck who decided to try newly legalized edibles for the first time. We’ve been living in a never-ending state of ambiguity—confined to our homes, facing the existential threat of climate change, our rights precariously dependent on the whims of the recent election. Lots of unknowns. Lots of disagreement on what is right and what is wrong.
People have taken to social media to vocalize their beliefs, and you may have learned that your dear aunt Sally has wildly different views than you do. Similar to the five stages of grief, you cycle through a series of reactions each time you check your phone.
At first, you view your friend or family member’s behavior in denial, blaming where they live or what they’ve been exposed to. After all, the news seems to be more subjective than factual nowadays. You may even try to enlighten them with what’s really true. Chances are it won’t be well-received and you’ll end up getting angry, fueling the dreaded rage debate in the comments of a post. You cool off by venting to like-minded friends and try to decode the mystery behind such different ways of thinking, asking why and how they could believe something so obviously stupid. The end result is a feeling of depression, because clearly, the whole world is fucked and idiotic people will be our demise. Rarely, if you really care about the person strongly enough, you eventually arrive at acceptance for who they are and their shitty beliefs.
So, what if this person is going to be scooping up mashed potatoes with the same serving spoon as you? This year has amplified a growing change in how we communicate, shifting mostly to virtual conversations. The result hasn’t necessarily been the warm-and-fuzzy feeling of families connecting over video calls and having heartfelt chats focused on their love for one another. Instead, traditional conversation has changed in an unsettling way.
We’ve forgotten how to effectively communicate with one another. If someone has a different opinion than us, it’s almost like we take it as a personal attack on our belief system and identity. If a person disagrees with our point of view, we interpret it as if they disapprove of who we are as an individual. Being so tied to our opinions is more dangerous than taking a tryptophan-induced booze cruise after your Thanksgiving feast. This close-minded behavior has led to an amplification of heated and volatile arguments both online and in-person.
Now you might think, “Whoa there, writer lady! Science has proven XYZ about XYZ… How do you expect me to just sit back and accept such an uneducated opinion from someone who thinks it’s fake?”
Passive acceptance is not what I’m after here. What I’m trying to encourage is dialogue, not argumentative discussion. Effective dialogue involves two key aspects: active listening and compassionate curiosity.
Active listening means that when the other person is speaking, you are actually listening, not thinking of your counter-argument to discredit what they’re saying or how constricting your pants are. It’s tough to break this habit, but is absolutely critical if you’d like the same consideration. You see, if someone doesn’t feel like they’re heard and understood, there’s no chance in hell that they will listen to what you have to say.
One of the ways to implement this is to remind yourself that you’re listening to learn, not to agree or disagree. This involves an element of compassionate curiosity. Make an effort to understand where this person is coming from. Their beliefs didn’t just fall out of the sky like a deadly coconut in a windstorm. Their life experiences shaped their beliefs, and if you had lived that exact same life, you would probably believe something similar. Be compassionate and try to understand them.
You don’t need to agree with everything they say. That is not good communication either. Instead, be open-minded as you listen, and if you feel yourself getting angry with what they are babbling on about, just remember that they can think their own thoughts, just as you are entitled to think yours.
People’s opinions don’t change through “I’m right, you’re wrong” debates. If anything, it makes a person grip onto their beliefs harder than ever. Opinions change through thoughtful, open-minded, respectful conversation that is rooted in an eagerness to learn about a fellow human being’s point of view. Only then can we be open to different ways of thinking and be more understanding as a whole.
The upcoming holidays are the perfect time to practice the art of open-minded dialogue. Few things squelch out the thankfulness associated with Turkey Day than getting into an argument with someone who sprays their chewed up green bean casserole as they try to defend their point. Instead, listen with an intent to understand and learn more about that person.
And, if all else fails, just focus on the gravy—It tends to make everything better.