Dear Christina, As we gear up for the upcoming holiday season, I find it particularly difficult to spend time with my family, who have diabolically different views from me. I am tolerant and loving. They are not. Hearing their views makes me cringe and I have so little respect for them as people because of the beliefs they hold. I do not want to hate them for their beliefs, but I do. How can I handle being around them? What should I do?
Dear Prickly You,
I understand what it’s like to hate someone for their beliefs and their points-of-view, especially if those views are the polar opposite of you. I also understand what it’s like to not want to be around people who don’t share similar beliefs and values. And I understand what it’s like to have family members that you just don’t resonate or connect with in any way.
Here’s what I would say: You are under no obligation to be around people you do not want to be around. And you are under no obligation to be around people who do not respect you and/or do not value being in your presence. You are under no obligation to be around family — just because they are family. You can kindly and compassionately decline to take part in events that do not honor you and your spirit.
That said, if you genuinely want to be present at these family events, then you have to figure out a way to be accepting of the differences that exist between you and members of your family while respecting them as human beings. You see, we humans tend to confuse certain words and feelings. For example, we may say that we hate someone else, but what we usually really mean is that we hate what they say/do. We rarely hate them as human beings. But, because their actions make up feel so much anger, fear, pain, we believe it is they who we dislike, but in reality, we don’t like how what they do makes us feel.
So, the key to enjoying being in the presence of people with opposing views and values is to recognize that it’s usually not them as human beings that we deplore, it’s that we don’t like what they do and we don’t like how what they do makes us feel.
To take this even one step farther, there is power in the pain you feel when you think about how hurtful their views are to you. There’s a reason you hurt. Perhaps it’s because your heart hurts for the people they condemn with their views or the people impacted by the outcome of their actions. If this is the case, consider channeling that hurt and pain you feel into productive ways of being. For example, you could volunteer for organizations that support your beliefs. You could become a community-action agent for change and put positive action behind your pain so that you can set it free.
The overall problem is that most people will forever blame other people for the pain they feel and thus they never become an agent for the kinds of change in the world they want to see. So, long story short, as long as you keep blaming your family for the pain you feel because of their beliefs, and as long as you keep channeling all your pain energy into hating them, you will remain stuck in a position of never being a part of the solution and bringing forth the change you want to see.
Intolerance will always bring forth more intolerance, even if it’s intolerance wrapped in the name of love.
If I were you, I would attend these holiday festivities with a new curious point-of-view. I would allow my family to show me all the places within me that are ready to transition out of a place of negativity, shame and resentment toward them and into a place of being a model for the change I want to see. I would also allow my family to help me develop the muscle of compassion and tolerance for all and I would become an astute observer of myself so that whenever I start to feel intolerance toward them or the feelings of judgment, I would practice compassion and tolerance instead.
Sometimes the compassion and tolerance may show up by simply becoming an observer of them and observing their fear or pain that’s hiding underneath their intolerant beliefs. Because believe me, there is ALWAYS fear and/or pain of some sort that is hiding underneath intolerant points-of-view. Always, there is no avoiding this. Intolerance is a defense mechanism, a projection of pain/fear — yours included.
Most people don’t realize that the programming for intolerance and judgement runs deep. And so to reprogram ourselves, deprogram those old thought-habits, we must have influences in our lives that give us the opportunity to reprogram ourselves. Let your family be a part of your reprogramming. Because when you can arrive at a place where you don’t judge them for their beliefs, then you have arrived at a place that is more consistent with the human being you say you want to be.
Another thing to think about, just like going to the gym builds our physical muscles, the muscle memory required to develop new ways of being, requires we workout those muscles regularly through new patterned, programmed responses. So let all this family-time help you see the places within you that are ready to show up more compassionately, more gracefully, more powerfully — as the change you want to see.
I’ve learned that the magic is that others change as we show them how to be.
With loving kindness,