2018-06-25 How to Talk to Them

I was talking to @ekansa on Mastodon. How do we deal with family members that are so far away from us on the political spectrum that just hearing them talk already insults our intelligence?

I think we are faced with a choice: either we agree to still meet and not talk about politics, or we don’t talk at all, or we must be prepared for some serious shouting that won’t end well. I picked option 1.

Now, I’ve heard so much worse I don’t know where to start. Unbearable things. And I want to should back. What sort of idiot, what sort of racist, what sort of war-monger are you? But these are not my family. But the question is real. How do we talk to them?

Do we stand our ground, fight back, give as much as we take, struggle?

But think about this, magnified by a few million people. Where will it end? Civil war? And then what, after the war? People will still be there. But now finally we will learn to be quiet. The Nazis are still judges, the Slave Owners are still mayors, many Croats and Serbs are still alive, but so many are dead and some people will wonder: was this bloodshed really worth it?

After the war, people keep quiet because they know the price they paid. Their children rebel and hate their parents for having hidden the unrepentant Nazis in their midst. And the grandchildren are ready to start all over again.

That’s why I think we need to be careful. Go for the politicians. Go for the streets. Demonstrate, write, shout, but if you make it personal, confrontational, individual, what then: will you punch your family? Will somebody in the family pull a weapon if you keep escalating? So yeah, we can stop all contact with the other side, but that will also not heal any wounds. I keep wondering about that: how will we find our way back from the brink?

One way to find back from the brink is to keep in touch. Focus on the things we can share. Hiking. BBQ. Kids playing. Small talk. It’s not much.

Zak Sabbath recently reposted Distracted From Distraction By Distraction. He quotes Toni Morrison talking about racism and how it’s just greed and what to do about it; and he quotes George Saunders talking about noise drowning the signal, and what to do about it. It boils down to that: don’t focus on the stuff that’s abundantly clear to everybody. Keep doing the good stuff instead.

Toni Morrison:

It’s important, therefore, to know who the real enemy is, and to know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work.

Distraction is the enemy.

George Saunders:

We consider speech to be the result of thought (we have a thought, then select a sentence with which to express it), but thought also results from speech (as we grope, in words, toward meaning, we discover what we think). This yammering guy has, by forcibly putting his restricted language into the heads of the guests, affected the quality and coloration of the thoughts going on in there.

Toni Morrison, again:

So the question is “What do you do…?” Well, educating the conqueror is not our business. Really. But if it is, if it were, if it was important to do that, the best thing to do is not to explain anything to him, but to make ourselves strong, to keep ourselves strong.

And Zak Sabbath, quoting Toni Morrison:

You create a more sophisticated thing – you create an internal conversation that is meaningful to you and to good people, and the internal energy of that will pay off when it’s needed, “even though it begins as inward and private, and gets its own juices from itself, the end result is it’s communication with the world at large” because you will have made yourselves and your people strong.



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