BE FIVE YEARS OLD AGAIN
Surrounded by the possibility of contracting the Covid-19 virus, many of us will heed our state government’s warning and celebrate Thanksgiving only with those in our households. Others will dare the virus’ capricious habit of distributing its air-borne seeds wherever it pleases, and travel to their customary family’s or friends’ dinner table. This dialogue is for those folks whose holiday mealtime conversations might be strained during this post-election Thanksgiving.
Me: Thanksgiving will be different for us this year. No drive to join family members in Venetia, Pennsylvania, just west of Pittsburgh. No reactions of joy and amazement upon seeing once again, the little artists who’ve created the tableaux attached with magnets to our refrigerator. No shared descriptions of last summer’s veggie gardens and nature sightings. No bashful acceptance of the gifts of honey produced by my brother-in-law’s bees, and the jar of jam, filled with the tasty results of the grapevines he’s planted in his Michigan soil.
Her: Count yourself lucky. I’ll be spending the day with my partner’s parents. They’re on the opposite side of the political fence, not to mention the CDC’s “stay at home” warning. During the past four years, we’ve managed to remain civil with each other and we’ve kept our conversations cooler than the mashed potatoes and turkey gravy.
Me: Hmm. If an argument threatens to hijack your family’s table talk, act like you’re five years old again.
Her: What do you mean? Throw the stuffing and green beans on the floor?
Me: No. I mean you don’t need to have a meltdown. Ask questions, a steady stream of them. The way five years old kids do.
Her: Yeah. My neighbor’s little boy asks more questions than a Washington Post’s investigative reporter. He’s tenacious, with his “Why this? Why that?”
Me: Other than exhausting you, do his questions ever make you ask yourself, “why this or why that?”
Her: Sometimes. Where are you going with this?
Me: Well, as ecstatic as I am about the Biden/Harris ticket winning the election, I’m realistic. I figure Joe can be the calming influence we need after the divisive chaos we’ve experienced, but he’s not a magician. He can’t wave a wand above the head of every American who is angry and aggrieved and expect an instant attitude shift. So many people are infused with deeply held resentments that burst out of their mouths with the fury of molten lava exploding from a long dormant volcano.
Her: If the lava has always been there, bubbling away, what can I do about it?
Me: Maybe not that much. But we shouldn’t expect Joe Biden to be the sole peacemaker. We all bear some of the responsibility for making things better.
Her: What’s your suggestion?
Me: It’s the same suggestion I’ve mentioned regarding our need to confront institutionalized racism. I’m suggesting we need to ask questions and listen to the answers. We don’t need to dispute the answers we hear, no matter how contrary they are to our feelings and beliefs. We shouldn’t anoint our perspective as the right one and label the other perspective the wrong one. Our goal shouldn’t be to change attitudes, but to listen and try to understand how and why those attitudes came to be.
Her: What if I understand the other person’s answers, but can’t accept them?
Me: Acceptance is neither your goal nor the other person’s. Acknowledging the other person’s differences, feelings, and thoughts is much more doable than accepting or endorsing them.
Her: You might be right. Sometimes, when we finally arrive at the caboose of my little neighbor’s “why” train, I realize my answers aren’t always logical. After a while, they don’t hang together, not even to me. Later on, I find myself returning to the train tracks where he left his last question, and I begin to ask myself how I arrived at my answers.
Me: Does the little guy ever argue with you about your answers?
Her: No. He just nods and says, “Okay.” Then, he adds another “Why?”
Me: So, you’ve experienced the gracefulness of asking questions and listening to the answers without recrimination.
Her: But what if a person’s answers are insulting? What if they use the N-word or an anti-woman or anti-LGBTQ+ pejorative?
Me: That could very well happen. It’ll be difficult, but maybe you can say something like, “I feel hurt when I hear you say XYZ. Please tell me why you have such negative feelings about women/Black/LGBTQ people. I want to understand.”
Her: Well, you’ve given me something to consider. Maybe I’ll borrow your “Why?” strategy between mouthfuls of pumpkin pie, and earfuls of anger.
Me: You may not be a miracle worker, but asking “why” and listening to the responses might be the beginning of a reconciliation, even if it’s with one person at a time. And do try to have a HAPPY THANKSGIVING, my friend.
Renée Bess ©2020
Before she became a published author of five novels and an anthology, Renée Bess taught Spanish and French in a Philadelphia high school that served that city’s highest number of students living in public housing. Eight years of Reagonomics plunged her students’ families further under the ravages of poverty, and Renée struggled to find evidence of her success in the classroom. She regained her buoyancy after listening to a presentation that redefined success when teaching 160+ students each semester. Since then, she has believed in the power of asking questions and listening carefully and empathically to answers. Renée’s next book, Between a Rock and a Soft Place, will be published by Flashpoint Publications in February, 2021.
P.S. If the phrase “Start writing or type/to chose a block” appears in this blog, you know an additional fact about Renée. She’s always climbing computer technology’s steep learning curve.