On Speaking Up or Staying Quiet over the Holidays

With the festive season upon us and our country in the middle of political change, do you find yourself wondering what kind of topics will come up over Christmas lunch or around the New Years braai?

What do you say when that particular uncle starts telling those jokes? Or when your co-workers argue over politics?

Have you ever stayed away from end-of-year functions or family gatherings because you just want peace?

If so, you are not alone.

In his recent article,“10 Ways to Make Sure Politics Don’t Ruin Your Holidays” Howard Ross gives 10 suggestions for making sure our political (or other) differences don’t cause unnecessary damage to relationships and time with family during the holidays.

Although he is writing for an American audience, I found three of his points particularly relevant for the South African context.

First, he suggests that we each need to take time to process our emotions before engaging in debates with family members or friends. We might need to reflect on our feelings over recent political developments, or how our family members usually deal with issues of diversity or difference.

In my book, “A Journey of Diversity and Inclusion in South Africa” I talk about the importance of introspection – knowing ourselves and the things that press our buttons. We live in a country where we get triggered very easily, and we often take out our pent-up frustrations on each other.

If we don’t consciously name our fears and concerns about past or current events, the emotions can hijack us in the middle of a conversation with someone who has a different view than our own. Ross suggests that if there are emotions that need processing, find a trusted friend or professional (e.g. a coach or mentor) before seeing your family, instead of dumping your feelings on them.

Secondly, Ross suggests that we need to recognize the difference between politicians and their followers. It can be easy to lump people into a category or put them in a box based on what we think we know about them. Ross reminds us that a person may support a particular candidate or party, but still not agree with everything they stand for. Instead of getting defensive or angry, we need to try to understand the value system or beliefs that inform each others’ choices and opinions.

Thirdly, Ross reminds us that it is important to know when to end an argument that is going nowhere. As hard as it sounds, there are times when we need to agree to disagree, rather than letting a discussion get out of hand. Even better, we should try to turn the conversation into a conscious effort to understand each other, rather than a battle to win at all costs.

Some of us may be tempted just to stay quiet and avoid controversial topics altogether. However, this can come at a cost to our own sense of self – especially, if we stay silent about issues that we really care about. I believe there is a time and a place for choosing our battles (I talk about that in my book as well), but I also believe that we don’t have to dread or stay away from tough conversations with our family members. Instead, we can see these as opportunities to make a difference and go deeper with those closest to us.

Remember, change starts with us and it starts at home!

Happy holidays!

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