Plenty has happened in the last year, but some things never change, like the holidays. This article was posted last December 16, 2013, but I decided it could use some updates, so here is the new extended version.
Gathering family on the holidays is a joyful thing. For some, reunions may be rare, so it’s important to enjoy one when they can. When families get together, there are a few things they love to do: eat, drink, laugh and argue. Now when I say argue, I don’t mean anything malicious, but how many times have you been with family and a heated debate on a particular topic erupted? You may have even been involved! Now, who among us doesn’t like a good debate? They can be stimulating and informative, but the trick is to isolate the intensity so that it doesn’t escalate, cause let’s face it, we’re all stubborn and want to be right all the time. Here are some touchy subjects to beware of and the ways to approach them.
Politics shows up on every list of this sort. Everyone has their opinions and stances and most people rarely budge or for that matter admit to being wrong. So any efforts to sway these beliefs are a practice in futility and only end in frustration. It’s fine to state your position, but don’t demean anyone else’s and try to find some common ground. In the end you should come to some amicable agreement, even if it is to just agree to disagree.
This is an outcrop of political talk. This is where things get really weird. It can unite people in their suspicion of the government, it can be entertaining, or it could also be volatile. It really depends on everyone’s personality, so if you think getting into conspiracy theories is a bad idea, general rule of thumb would be to avoid discussion of 9/11 or JFK.
Another usual suspect, but I believe it depends. A family usually belongs to and has an established religious denomination so there isn’t too much danger of disagreement. Even if you’ve got a few atheists in the mix (usually the disillusioned youth), they don’t really bother to express dissent, out of respect to religious elders and general understanding of the futility. Where it gets tricky is when there is an in-law of a different religious background. It’s okay to discuss the theological principles of a different religion, because it shows interest and respect, but to debate the inconsistencies or virtues of each, doesn’t really go anywhere positive.
Investing in stock is essentially gambling, and not everyone wins. So in one family, there are bound to be winners and losers in the stock market, and putting these two groups in a room together could create a problem if the topic comes up. No one should be smug about making money in the market or demean the choices of the person who lost money. Everyone should be supportive, give advice on good investments or warning about bad ones. In general, economic issues can be particularly touchy subjects, so try not to get into them too deeply, since it can become very ideological. Also, refer back to the politics section since you’re bound to get into that if economics becomes a topic of discussion.
More and more as I get older, I am confronted with thinly veiled racism, which can really throw the wrench into the gears of friendly conversation. Given recent events, this past year has been incredibly tough on race relations, particularly with regard to the police. I am not here to throw down any opinions but chances are your uncles won’t be as restrained, so if you get roped into this controversial topic by someone you don’t see eye to eye with, all I can suggest is that you confront it. And I don’t mean “confront” in the sense of hostility, I mean in the sense that you listen to what someone has to say, consider it, lay down your argument in a constructive fashion and await rebuttal. This kind of conversation can be tense, so instead of attacking opinions with makes people defensive and react in anger, merely challenge them and things might end amicably.
Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?
There is nothing worse for the single person struggling to find romance than the proverbial grandmother prying into your love life. You’re worried about getting a second date and her mind is on wedding bells and great grandchildren. This is usually diffused by a simple “No,” but if you’re like me, relationship conversations with family members are generally uncomfortable. My nightmare scenario is being asked by Gran if I have tried Tinder yet. If you are in a relationship then disregard the above, but realize you might have to answer some harder followup questions.
When is the right time to own up for the bad behavior you have vehemently denied throughout your life but which your parents and family members—by virtue of common sense and life experience—know you have done, but may not be ready to hear themselves? When can you admit that the smell on your sweater all those years ago wasn’t incense? When can you stop pretending that a good chunk of our teenage years weren’t spent trying to get away with what the law and the good book deem to be wrong? I don’t know. I don’t want to have that conversation just yet. Maybe try your luck. Start small and go bigger every year. Who knows, it might actually be fun.
No one has to avoid these topics, since no one wants to have boring small talk with family, but we should all be aware of how to approach these topics to be respectful to the people we love, even if we don’t necessarily agree with their opinions or beliefs.