Heal The Country At Thanksgiving
In these polarized times in America what better place to heal the divide than at the dinner table!
We all have that Crazy Uncle John with his “crazy” ideas about how the government is going to take our guns and our liberties, the one whose political views stand out above all the rest, the one who everyone rolls their eyes at and someone eventually tells to be quiet. Maybe your family is conservative, and crazy uncle John is the token liberal who similarly has a “crazy” conspiracy theory about Monsanto and chem-trails poisoning us to control the population, and is outraged that we are eating the native bird, a Turkey, which is symbolic of how we raped and pillaged the natives to steal their land and now we are doing the same thing to our own people.
Well, whichever family you come from, I encourage you to take some time to talk to uncle John, and really listen to him. His perspective won’t be grafted over yours as he might like, but maybe there is something deeper that he is really talking about, something true at the emotional level, even if his facts and conclusions are far-fetched. Listen for that truth, and if you find it, let him know that you feel his concerns.
The great thing about a conspiracy theory is that it only needs a few facts to begin connecting the dots and drawing a picture of horror. After that, emotion takes over, and confirmation bias fills in the rest. Most any fact can then be spun to support our story. It’s kind of like we have a favorite movie genre and we filter our experience through it.
Cutting off Uncle John’s conspiracy theory by exposing his facts to be questionable or disconnected from his conclusions isn’t going to work, because he’s already seen the picture and “believes” it now. Belief is not something you want to challenge because we identify with our beliefs as part of who we are (even though they aren’t). Sure, beliefs shape our choices, and over years of living, it shows, but you could choose to see those beliefs as engine build-up impeding performance on your drive rather than the holy compass.
Beliefs are just ideas artificially suspended by the mind. If they were reality, we wouldn’t need to remember them—we would see them every time we open our eyes. But our belief about beliefs is that they are secret knowledge that only the select few possess, and therefore we have to protect that secret knowledge so it doesn’t get lost in this dark reality of misinformation. A story like that has just enough structure to suspend any number of beliefs that have little to no basis in reality.
But the really good stories that stick aren’t just any old conjured conspiracy. They are the ones that tap into the Zeitgeist, the collective cultural character of today. Children stories that have been altered intentionally by parents to edit out the darkness have been found being retold later by children the way they were originally written, unbeknownst to them. Somehow the deeper tale had a life of its own that would not be edited out.
This Zeitgeist can be detected in Uncle John’s stories too, not the details he chooses to connect to loosely support his claims, but the overall story framework—the Trilateral Commission plotting to enslave the planet in a New World Order is basically the same story as 1984, the Orwellian dystopia of Big Brother and the thought police. That story is alive and well in our literature today. As in Atlas Shrugged - the pro-capitalist version of a socialist dystopian future - we think that Ayn Rand enthusiasts are on the conservative side of the discussion and Orwellians on the other, but they are really telling the same story with different dots. Whether oppression comes in the form of an oligarchy or a socialist state, or a psychopathic dictator, it ends in a dystopian future. We are all very afraid of losing our freedoms, and that is coming up more and more in our culture today.
And even if I sound a lot like your Uncle John right now, please just take this idea home with you. When Uncle John feels shut down for his ideas, we are oppressing his involvement in the family. We don’t need to allow him to rattle on for hours, but if we really believe in equality, then his voice should not be marginalized by our hegemony. After all, in some families, you’d be the minority voice being marginalized. If this is a microcosm of the country, then we could start practicing our communication skills right here.
As Uncle John feels genuinely heard by you, he may become open to hearing a different perspective himself.
So, when Uncle John says "Trump is going to turn America into Nazi Germany and exterminate all minorities and if you don’t believe that you are blind!” ask yourself what the fears and yearnings are behind that; what is he really saying at the emotional level? What is the truth in his perspective? Is he voicing the pain of minorities all over the country who see their freedoms and their safety suddenly more at risk than before? How can you relate to him and with him without having to agree with his theory? Because that human touch, that connection, is what creates trust and lessens fear.
There are many potential futures, and if we are able to find our commonalities to build on, and expand our viewpoints by glimpsing others’, then we stand a better chance of influencing that future for the better. And if there’s anything we should be doing at Thanksgiving, it is being grateful for all that we have, the common bond and the diversity, including, and especially, Uncle John.