It started for those in the US at Thanksgiving, and will continue until the New Year is finally here – family gatherings, family dinners, where everyone we don’t see for the rest of the year is together for a long while. Sometimes, it seems, a really long while. There’s a reason you haven’t seen them for a year or more, and that may be because every time you’re together, bad feelings result. Your brother is hard right and you’re hard left; your sister is born-again and you’re an atheist. There are so many things people can strongly disagree on, that we end up coming to family gatherings expecting to be bored at best, and boiling at worst. But never actually enjoying ourselves.
Well, you know your family best, but it may be possible to change that dynamic. There’s a Native American tradition that many have heard of, called the talking stick. In traditional households, the talking stick is used to deal with disputes between members. The way it works is that whoever is holding the stick has the floor. Of course, there are some rules: the person holding the floor, for instance, talks about their feelings and don’t use the stick to blame the other. The other person – the one who’s hearing the speaker out – is meant to take a position of openness, really hearing what is being said in an open and non-defensive way (which they can only do if they aren’t feeling attacked).
We can do something similar at those dreaded family gatherings: open a space inside us to really hear what the other is saying, looking from their point of view, attempting to see how it makes sense to them. This can be really difficult. If it proves too much, then you might try what a close friend does every time he’s with his brother. He remembers the countless times they had fun together and relied on one another. When he does that, his heart opens, and he can have a close and heartfelt time with someone whose views are very opposed to his.
Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist. To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .