Special Christmas Episode: Navigating These Tough Waters

‘Tis the season. ‘Tis the season for giving, family, and peace on earth. ‘Tis, ’tisn’t it?

Holidays can be tough, and while I would always support you standing your ground in difficult situations, you do have to protect yourself emotionally. Before you enter an uncomfortable situation, draw some lines for yourself not to cross, and draw some lines that you won’t let someone else cross. Consider whether you have any allies in the room, or the amount of time you might be stuck in this situation. Unfortunately, you may be the one having to hold your own tongue in order to maintain your own sanity.

Giving

If you’ve been on a donating spree to warm your cold, liberal heart (like so many of us in this post-election hellscape), do not let it end! Go ahead and assume your emotional frenzy will calm over time, and set up all your donations to be monthly, even if small amounts. It will also be easier for you to budget in the long run if you consider these monthly bills rather than impulse spending.

Assuming you are not made of money, you might want to choose a cause (or three!) and do some research to find the best charity for that particular cause, rather than donating a little to all of them. Some charities and foundations are more efficient than others; consider using Charity Watch to help you make your decisions.

For last minute gift-giving, consider donating in someone’s honor. This will be easy, heartwarming, and meaningful to your fellow liberal, at least. However, depending on the level of confrontation you want to welcome into your life, maybe don’t donate to Planned Parenthood in honor of your family’s top anti-choice advocate (or do, and be a hero to us all). If that person is an anti-feminist of the “BUT WHAT ABOUT MUSLIM WOMEN IN THE MIDDLE EAST!?!” variety, you could consider donating to women in the Middle East, since clearly they are so passionate about that to the point that they must actively oppress American women! Donating despite someone’s lack of honor, rather than in their honor. Organizations need us, regardless of whether your relatives are dickbags.

  • Donate in various ways to other suffering women and girls throughout the world via the International Rescue Committee.
  • You could donate to a local food bank in honor of your favorite anti-welfare armchair activist (make them pay indirectly for their stances).
  • Make donations to funds that help lower income (mainly minority) children attend private schools for your top anti-education or racist relative, since those kids are going to need it.
  • If you have an older relative who hates Medicare as much as your average 21-year-old libertarian college student who has yet to look into the eyes of the future of caring for his parents, you could go ahead and donate to the AARP since you’re going to be totally paying for their care in the near future anyway. Even better, donate in honor of a middle aged person – show them you are aware of their mortality and they better start being aware too!

It’s about feeling smugly satisfied without bringing an onslaught of hatred upon yourself as you just try to navigate these tough holidays without having a nervous breakdown. Oh, and continuing to do the good in the world that you tell yourself you believe in. Remember: action matters.

Family/Peace on Earth

I know that many of you out there are visiting family, and it may not be as warm and joyous as usual. There have been countless listicles published on dealing with politics at the holiday dinner table (like this one and this one and this one). I am lucky enough, this year, that I am staying in my little bubble for Christmas. So my compiled list is only from reading lots of these, and not experience:

  1. Set a clear boundary about talking about politics and communicate it. Frame it about keeping the peace for everyone, not just protecting your emotions. If they are total assholes, they’ll ignore you, and it would be fair of you to totally shut down or leave because not respecting boundaries is a component of emotional abuse (see #17 on this list).
  2. Breathe slowly when your adrenaline starts pumping. Have tools available to help you calm down (books, someone to talk to, an exit strategy). Be willing to walk away from the discussion.
  3. Make your goal that people listen to you, understand you, and consider your opinions thoughtfully – not to change their minds. They voted and they’re going to stand by it for now. No one is going to “win” or “lose” here, no matter how hard they try – let go of that goal. What you – and the rest of us – need to do is improve the level of empathy that those who voted against human rights have. If they ever make the right choices, it’s going to be because of conclusions they developed on their own.
  4. Look people in the eye, listen until their sentence ends, and pause before you speak. Repeat what they say. As wrong as they may often be, you’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t hear and process the actual words coming out of their mouths. We need a better understanding of what we are up against. You may have no respect for their opinions, but you do have to take them seriously because those opinions are affecting your life.
  5. When you do speak, speak indisputable truths – experiences, feelings, and facts – not arguments (which just invite counter-arguments). If they argue with your experiences, feelings, or facts, they are wrong (even if they don’t see it). If they argue with arguments, they are just arguing. In this post-fact world, it might not do much good. Be ready for that. Remember your goal from #3.
  6. Set personal boundaries about when you will call people out for certain things (like telling racist jokes, for example), and have pre-determined, rehearsed responses. You may not change them as people, but you can show them that no, what they believe is not universally acceptable, and that has its own merits. Read this from The Toast to muster up some courage; read this from about.com for some strategies.
  7. If they are spewing hatred and bigotry, harness it as fuel for your anger. Write down the things they said later. Use it to re-ignite your fire when you become complacent in your liberal bubble.
  8. Honestly, if you’re about to leave the situation and not see these people for another year, do whatever the hell you want. If our world burns, I don’t want these people under the impression they aren’t to blame.

And I really think that if your crowd is going to mock you, assault you emotionally and use you as a punching bag, you are better off skipping Christmas. There will be a lot less damage done in the long run. You will get a bunch of shit for skipping Christmas but not a bunch of scars from the conversations that would have been had.

Godspeed, friends. I hope your holidays are peaceful, that the worst assumed above doesn’t apply to you, and that you are brave and covered in armor.

Action Items

In addition to everything above:

  • Sit down and write out a game plan for any political debates for the holidays. Include:
    • Where your boundaries are.
    • What you’re going to say and do when your boundaries are crossed.
    • What your goals are for any discussion.
    • Who might be receptive to your point of view vs. who would not listen.
    • What you’re going to do to take care of your emotions.
    • Your exit strategy if it gets unbearable.
    • If these are your in-laws:
      • Develop this plan with your spouse.
      • Find out what they are willing to do to stand up for you (in my opinion).
      • Take their opinions seriously about what is better left alone.
  • Queue up a reading list of books, music, or any activity that will make you feel better. For me, that means burying myself in a feminist rage (via reading and blasting some girl-power-y music). For you, it might be doing more something soothing like coloring.
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Author: Melissa

Melissa is an artist and half-architect living in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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