You know those college-football bumper magnets that say “A house divided?” Perhaps she supports University of Michigan, he’s a rabid Michigan State guy. Maybe it’s Alabama vs. Auburn. Or USC – UCLA. Regardless, the couple has to learn to get along during football season.
I feel like our entire country needs a bumper magnet. A house divided. Republican vs. Democrat. Trump vs. Clinton. And within households and extended families, many have not been getting along. So what do you do over the holidays?
Very soon you will come face to face with that infuriating cousin who shared bogus news stories about your candidate. You’ll walk into the house of the mother-in-law who recently said on the family chat, “What idiots believe this stuff?” – knowing full well that you believe “that stuff.” You will wonder what to say to that friend who said those hurtful things when he discovered your vote.
How do you rebuild those broken relationships, and actually like those people again? I’ve been studying this for two years, for my new book The Kindness Challenge. Here are three ways:
- Decide ahead of time to be the adult in the room. In this election year, we’ve seen a lot of words and actions that used to be considered childish and self-indulgent. And something at your family gatherings might similarly push all your buttons. But when toddlers have a tantrum, someone in the room has to have generous self-control. When people are angry or cruel, someone has to have grace and kindness. Decide ahead of time that that person will be you. Resolve to never say impulsive, mean things just because someone else does. Practice in advance the words you will say to defuse tension instead of build it. Decide ahead of time you will be the one who makes everyone else want to be better versions of themselves.
- Remember that relationships are more important than being right. All your brilliant arguments haven’t yet changed your cousin’s political opinion. It’s unlikely that a few words over cranberry sauce will make him slap his forehead and cry, “By Jove, you’ve been right all along!” So when your blood begins to boil, think about what this cousin means to you. Think about the time he took you to the hospital when you broke your ankle. Remember how he always helped you study for tests in high school. Is proving your point worth losing the relationship? Usually not. Instead, raise a glass to your cousin – and everyone else – and say, “All these issues are crazy, aren’t they? I’m so glad that in this family, we love each other regardless.”
- Always fight unkindness with kindness. Most important, in every circumstance, in all things, be kind. There’s actually a biblical command about that. Or twelve. As far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Tame the tongue. Do not repay insult with insult, but repay insult with blessing. You cannot fight harsh words with other harsh words. The only thing strong enough to fight cruelty is kindness. We think of kindness as being a bit vague and wishy-washy. But in my empirical research for the book, I was astonished to discover its immense power to change lives and relationships. Before, during and after your holiday gatherings, practice being kind. Especially when you don’t want to be.
Two thousand years ago, in another time of upheaval, the Apostle Paul wrote: “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone…and be patient with difficult people.” That is the prescription for rebuilding broken bridges. Perhaps we should put that on our national bumper magnets.
Want to know how to be kind, when you really don’t want to be? My research uncovered three daily actions that will transform your relationships – and you. Pre-order The Kindness Challenge, for delivery December 20!
Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage, and her newest book, Through A Man’s Eyes. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.
This article first appeared at Patheos.