What to Say to Uncle Bob and Aunt Betty

How to talk to people we who offend us

 

We’re all getting ready for the holidays and we are hearing from many of you that you’re worried… worried about what to do if someone in your family says something so rude and offensive that you will be tempted to lash out. It’s understandable. What if Uncle Bob says something sexist in front of the kids? What if Aunt Betty says something so racist that we can’t believe we are related to her? What if our brother-in-law tells a racist, sexist, homophobic “joke” specifically to get a rise out of us?

Should we say something? Maybe it’s better to have that extra glass or two of wine and laugh the whole thing off. But if we don’t say anything, it feels like we are condoning their behavior or we aren’t strong enough to stand up to them. It feels like a battle that they’ve already won and we’ve lost.

Have we really decided that there’s no way to talk to people who offend us?

We have to reclaim the dignity of our conversations with each other. And by “we” I mean you and me. It’s not about winning and losing arguments. It’s about how we repair the relationships–in our families, friends, and communities.

But how?

First, we have to realize that no comment we post or argument we make with annotated resources will change anyone’s mind. Facts don’t matter. Relationships and how we talk to each other do. And no one, no matter what political views we hold, dies from being offended. But our humanity dies if we don’t have strong relationships with each other.

So when someone posts or says things that offend us it’s time to reach out to these people and say the following:

Uncle Bob, I am trying to understand where you’re coming from. You’re my family (or friend, or whatever this person might be) and that’s more important than our different views or anything either one of us posts on social media. I really want to know how you came to believe what you’re saying. It clearly means a lot to you so I want to know.

Our goal is to come across as interested, curious, and respectful–not necessarily of his opinions but of the life experiences that make him think this way.

So let’s embrace these Uncle Bob and Aunt Betty moments for what they are. A chance to repair relationships. A chance to have a great time during the holidays where we have meaningful moments with the people closest to us. A chance to remember that this time of year can be a time where we practice what we aspire to be.

 


This originally appeared in our newsletter Communiquette

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