OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — We all have that one relative that seems to have discarded reality in the past few years, whether they refuse to accept the results of the 2020 election or they think Covid is a hoax, or they may even think JFK junior faked his death and is going to come back and install Trump as God-King of America.
Regardless of which variety of nonsense your relative believes you may be crafting excuses to get out of attending the holiday traditions with your family to avoid them. That’s a perfectly valid and understandable stance, but what if you still feel you have to or want to go?
Don’t set yourself up for a situation that turns into a complete meltdown.
You may have a picture in your head of a lively debate where you pull out all the rhetorical stops to point out inconsistent beliefs, or that you can “just Google it” to show the truth and everyone will clap and the turkey will give you $100 but that will never happen.
You cannot win a debate with one side that does not care about the truth.
What will happen is that your family will see you as the instigator of a very upsetting dinner discussion. There is no one tweet you can read, meme you can post, or conversation you can have that will completely change someone’s worldview. It won’t happen.
Don’t engage in debate. People often believe that a debate has a winner and a loser and if they don’t have enough context to figure out who is being truthful or who is correct they will often pick the person who is most aggressive. It’s tempting to think you are a rhetorical genius and you will be the one to convince your relative that they are wrong before the turkey hits the table but nobody will be able to do that.
Even if you, like me, are quick with the witty comebacks it still won’t work because you are bound by reality and your opponent isn’t. They do not care what is true. To an outsider (the rest of your family) the person with the most answers will appear to be the winner even if those answers are untrue or illogical.
In the heat of the moment, you will eventually get frustrated, and then what?
Do not set up a situation or dynamic where you are debating. This paints a false picture to outsiders and can lead them to believe that both sides are on equal footing — that you are both “a little right” and that’s not the case. It’s not even possible. Either the Earth is flat or it isn’t. There’s no middle ground between that, but people have been taught to look for one to avoid conflict.
The easiest way to avoid a fight is to set strong boundaries and refuse to engage in discussions about it. This is not a long-term strategy and it can be difficult if you don’t have allies that will support it. You can ask other reasonable family members to help you enforce a truce.
If you’re going it alone, the phrase “No politics at the table.” may be the bare minimum boundary you are able to get people on board with. While you will not and should not avoid these discussions forever, if you can just keep the lid on them for one day, that’s a win.
Keep in mind it’s impossible to de-radicalize someone over dinner. It takes time and patience, and support, and if you don’t have it going in you won’t gain it by being part of “the thing that happened at Thanksgiving”, you just won’t.
Should you just passively let a family member say things that are racist, antisemitic, or otherwise dangerous and hurtful without comment? Of course not. You can stand firm and keep enforcing boundaries. What happens when your family member disrespects the boundaries? That’s going to be up to your family. If it’s happening at your house you can ask them to leave. If you’re at someone else’s house you can leave. There really aren’t better options sometimes than walking away.
You cannot reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into, and you cannot bring facts to a feelings fight.
In the end, just like at the beginning you have to go in with reasonable expectations, and the most reasonable goal sometimes is just to leave with the same situation you started with, two people living in different realities. There’s not really another option unless you’re okay with making everyone resent you and if that’s okay with you, disregard all my advice.
I’m not judging anyone who decides that enough is enough, as long as they understand it’s going to get ugly and you’re going to leave things unresolved.
Last Updated November 24, 2021, 9:00 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor