As many people gather together for a traditional meal of gratitude they will be taking a deep breath before they enter the house. There are a lot of people in this nation who find their primary identity by political party or economic theory instead of in our common humanity. This means that at some point in the day of gratitude, someone is going to throw out a line to see what kind of reaction they can catch. The deep breath, for many of us, is to prepare ourselves to not take the bait, or to respond in a clear but positive way.
That’s a lot of pressure.
We are experiencing a lot of change right now, including change in how we view our history, our present circumstances, and the future we want to create together. This change is leading to a lot of anxiety. We can easily become reactive to our own stress but also the stress of others. We become subject to a dynamic that can easily spin out of control.
A few years ago a family member of mine kept throwing out politically charged statements to elicit a reaction from me. He seemed to be asking for a political debate. But when we took up any matter at length, he would fairly quickly get frustrated as I was neither agreeing with him, nor saying what he expected me to say. Finally I said, “I am tired of these Fox News written family dramas. If you want to debate something that’s fine. But come to the conversation to talk with the real me. I’ll do the same for you. I don’t need a debate partner, I need a family member. I value you as a part of my family. I love you and am grateful for you.”
Over time, this seemed to change the dynamic from competitive, us versus them, red-team and blue-team to something that satisfied a deeper longing. He seemed to realize he didn’t need to argue me back into his family, because I was unshakably a part of his family.
When we engage our family members let’s engage them with courage and gratitude.
- Courage to be vulnerable and share what we really need from them
- Gratitude for what they mean to us and how we value them
When we can prepare ourselves through prayer, meditation, conversation with friends, clergy, or therapists to engage our family with courage and gratitude we can invite them to recognize our deepest need: the need for a family that will stick by us. As they sense this need is met they have the possibility to relax. Then in a more calm state we can talk about our shared values and how we differ on some.
I am not suggesting that we don’t engage in conflict with family members who have racist attitudes. I am suggesting that when family members know we love them, they can hear our own values more clearly.
I want to acknowledge a painful reality: that there are situations where this does not work. Sometimes we do need to draw boundaries in order to protect ourselves from verbal bullying. Sometimes healing situations is beyond our influence. To recognize that also takes courage and gratitude for the lives we have been given.
This week I am deeply grateful for
- my family
- my friends
- my coworkers
- our partners in the Paths to Understanding community
- leaders of all wisdom traditions
- my neighborhood
- our democracy, flawed as it is
- my Indigenous neighbors who cared for the area around the Salish Sea so well
- the future we can create together
- the Creator of all who created us with unity, diversity, and unity in our diversity
I pray that you and yours have a blessed week. May the Divine bring a healing to our anxieties even beyond our capacity and our imagination.