Peace At The Holidays And Electoral Goodwill

Family opening gifts on Christmas Eve, viewed through window
Family opening gifts on Christmas Eve, viewed through window

This blog is co-authored by Ann Caldwell, a resident scholar at the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center.

This Thanksgiving many families put up a political free zone sign at their dinner table. They just didn't want to confront anyone with the elation of victory or the depression of loss from the election. But wait, we're not done with the holidays, the most intense season of family gatherings! With the advent of winter and the coming of the winter holidays, let's hope that some of the raw emotion has subsided and maybe frozen over. It's time to try to move on. Most of our families are a microcosm of America, coming from different economic classes and lifestyles, many geographic locations, and even different ethnicities and religions. Isn't our family a good place to attempt to understand and bridge the divisions in American politics?

How do families manage to get along, since every family has annoying people in it (except you and me, of course)? For one thing, we compartmentalize each other but we also have ways to move beyond stereotypes. Your Uncle Joe might be obnoxious and rude, but when you need help with a home project, he's johnny-on-the-spot, climbing ladders, hauling wood, or loading trucks. Your sister may be a no-show when mom or dad is sick, but, boy, does she know how to dote on and beguile her nieces and nephews. In our families we deal with the complexity of people, their personalities and motivations, and with the fact that none of them falls entirely in any one category. Relationships are multi-layered and constantly changing. The way we get along is by knowing that each person wants to be a part of the family and appreciating the unique contributions each brings to the family. We find common ground through common memories and experiences. Just bring out a family photo album and even the youngest or most jaded relative will soon be laughing and reminiscing!

Do not, however, take the easy way out and avoid all political discussions. Show genuine interest in finding out your relative's reasons for his or her vote. Remember not all Hillary voters are radical feminists and not all Trump voters are misogynist Neo-Nazis! Perhaps you can find issues you can agree to work on together such as raising the minimum wage, or creating more jobs by fixing the roads and bridges and mass transit in your area. Each one of us is an expert on a tiny corner of the political landscape. Learn and share one another's expertise.

Many of us actually held our noses when we voted this year. Many thought both candidates were flawed, yet we walked into the booth and pulled a lever or marked a ballot for one of them. The aim this holiday season is not to justify your vote but to find out from your relatives who voted differently from you that grain of hope they found in their candidate and, even more importantly, that grain of hope you can share about the future. This is not going to be easy but we better start now because we have four more years ahead in Washington and a lifetime ahead within our family. Let's face it, acrimony isn't fun to live with and we need to figure out how to continue to stand for what we believe without denigrating others.

All modern families are complex, even dysfunctional. Yet family bonds can and should trump political divisions. Perhaps if we begin to practice the holiness of the holiday season, our families can remain whole and, by showing empathy and goodwill to all, then peace can reign on the earth.

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