Don't let opinions ruin holiday peace
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- On the heels of a heated political season, make family peace a priority during the upcoming holidays.
Alisha Hardman, an assistant professor in the Mississippi State University School of Human Sciences, said holidays offer opportunities for family members to enjoy one another and make memories to last a lifetime.
"Some families have more trouble than others when it comes to controversial or sensitive subjects," Hardman said. "If something cannot be discussed in a constructive manner, it may be best to avoid the topic altogether."
For those families, the best course of action may be changing the subject.
“Sometimes, it is just not going to be effective to have a discussion,” she said. “Try to seek mutual interests or common ground. Two opinions might just be approaching the subject from different positions. In the case of politics, we all want a strong economy with healthy, responsible citizens. Contrary to political discourse, we are not adversaries working against one another.”
Hardman said social media allows public scrutiny of personal opinions that might have once stayed private, especially among relatives.
In families that can engage in difficult dialogues, good listening skills are essential.
“Perfect your listening skills to understand different opinions, not just to retort. Listen to get to know how they think and why they think the way they do,” she said. “Don’t try to beat anyone over the head with an opinion. If the goal is trying to win someone over to your side, you won’t have a productive discussion.”
Political issues are not the only controversial topics that can challenge families. Other sources for disagreement could include finances, sports teams, in-laws, inheritances, food, and custody or care for loved ones.
“Alcohol is common during the holidays, but it should be consumed very carefully, especially when there is tension in the family,” Hardman said. “Alcohol lowers our inhibitions. People don’t choose their words as carefully and may fail to realize how their comments come across, which leads to ineffective communication.”
Louise E. Davis, an Extension professor of child and family development, said arguments can be very upsetting for some family members.
“Shield vulnerable people, such as children, from debates or heated discussions,” Davis said. “On the other hand, it can be healthy for kids to see that adults can disagree in a healthy, respectful manner.”
“One way to show love for others is to treat them with respect, even if their opinions are in the opposite direction from yours,” Davis said. “Children learn how to respect others from the behavior and actions of adults around them. Regardless of personal beliefs, adults need to model appropriate behavior that respects the rights and thoughts of others.”