The coming of the Thanksgiving holiday had us thinking about the 1943 Norman Rockwell painting, “Freedom from Want.” You know that one where the family is around the table admiring the turkey? Part of the Four Freedoms Series, “Freedom from Want” (aka The Thanksgiving Picture or I’ll be Home for Christmas), was created in an attempt to “bolster patriotic spirit during World War II.”
Looking at the work it now feels exclusive and completely out of touch with the modern day family setting. The team at For Freedoms must have felt the same, as they reimagined the piece in their 2019 exhibit, “For Freedoms, Where do we go from here?”
Which had us thinking, “Where have we gone since?”
We agree that a lot has happened over the last 24 months and we’ve been through a lot. Good progress has been made in having difficult conversations and bridging difference, yet we still struggle to understand our differences and use courage as a tool to find a broader connection. Especially with people we don’t agree with, including the people we love.
As Vernā potently points out in her popular Ted Talk: “You’ve got to listen to the conversations around the table. You start to say things like, ‘Grandma’s a bigot.’ ‘Uncle Joe is racist.’ And you know, we love Grandma and we love Uncle Joe. We do. We know they’re good people, but what they’re saying is wrong.“
So how do we get along around the table during the holidays? Could the solution be less “tolerance” and more connection, courage and compassion?
Here are Vernā’s 5 golden rules to live by when it comes to leading with courage during this holiday season.
- Prepare! Think about the last gathering you attended, maybe even just last week, and review it in your mind how it went. What did you do that you felt good about, and what moments do you wish you could do over again? Then set an intention for how you want to show up next time. When you’re stating your point of view, think about using the phrases “In my opinion” “From my point of view as a…” it defuses the heated arguments when we admit that much of what we’re asserting, no matter how adamant we are about it, is just our perspective.
- Assume everyone is valuable. Most of us are great at being superficially nice to people. But that’s not the same as believing all people can add value to your life. When we assume people are valuable, we’re open and curious. When we don’t, we stick with small talk, make assumptions, and move on. Spend some time really listening to everyone around the table. Ask follow up questions—and keep listening. We all can remember a time when we had a deep, unexpected conversation with someone that challenged our assumptions about them, and left us changed for the better.
- Know your (diverse) audience. If we’re going to transform our holiday spaces, we have to create environments where more of us feel included and respected. Consider the language you use and what subjects you choose to talk about. It’s not that you have to avoid certain discussions completely; just be aware of how they might play in a mixed audience. Sometimes you don’t know the secret battles and identities in the room.
- Choose your words carefully when other people don’t. It wouldn’t be a holiday gathering without somebody saying something thoughtless or inappropriate. Be ready to speak up—but know how to do it in a way that won’t make the situation worse. The goal isn’t to humiliate the speaker; it’s to actually interrupt the behavior. If someone tells a joke that demeans a group of people, you can say in the most curious tone you can muster, “Why is that funny?” If someone proclaims a stereotypical view as truth, you can kindly ask, “What do you mean?”
- Find the good and resist judgment. Some folks are non-judgmental by nature, but many of us struggle not to be critical of others. At family events, we often fall into our roles: biting jokes, critiques, limited expectations. We see people we haven’t seen in months or years and say things like, “I see you’re still smoking,” or “So have you found a job yet?” or “Are you still with that woman?” We could decide to show up less judgemental with a smile and a compliment, noticing what is working.
We can’t control every interaction, and there are some relationships and patterns that can’t be solved at the table. But we can do better if we make a conscious effort to put our best heart and best mouth forward, and find more authentic community among our family and friends.
Want to give back this holiday season? Our new TVMC merchandise has dropped. And we’re celebrating by giving back! Choose from our Baseball hat, Koozie® Backpack Cooler Chair, or Shopper bag. When you purchase any of these items, TVMC will donate 10% of the gross sales to The Privilege Institute through December 31, 2021. So start shopping for good right now!