Rocky Road: Family political discourse and two old stoners
Dear Rocky Road,I deeply love my family but find them intensely draining due to their political stances. I can avoid talking about politics, but they always seem to bring shit up. Always. I bite my tongue because we can never actually have a conversation. They don’t listen to anything I say. They just throw down their next talking point that they have decided is The Truth. (Usually, in an extremely condescending manner.)What the hell do I do? Is it bad to just stop talking to them? I don’t want to isolate myself but their politics and political interactions are all-encompassing and emotionally draining.Anonymous
Thank you for the honesty in your question. It’s a painful thing to admit that we don’t want to be around the people we love — whatever the reason. More difficult still is the number of people in the same boat. I don’t have a statistic to pull out, but Google “Thanksgiving” and “politics” and you’ll get a raft of articles about how the divisiveness of today’s politics have ruined Turkey Day.
But what screams out at me in your question is that it’s not your relatives’ politics that boil your blood, but rather their behavior. Not listening, condescending, and harping are rude ways of interacting, regardless of the topic. Which brings us to the deeper question: do you think your family members are decent people or not? If they are, but the topic of politics turns them into thoughtless assholes, then you’ve got something to work with.
Let’s assume this is the case. Then the challenge becomes getting them to act their normal, decent selves rather than their been-watching-too-much-cable-TV selves. I wonder how they would react if you pointed out to them how different their demeanor is on politics and how it makes you feel?
This is uncomfortable but vitally important. Politicians can spew vitriol at the camera and feel no consequence. But when watchers turn around and do the same to their family members with different views, there are consequences. Relationships are strained and broken. Would your relatives be so aggressive with their views if you told them how much it alienated you? Before you walk away, I think it’s worth finding out.
Assuming it’s possible to bring the discussion back into the realm of civility, the next challenge is to keep it there. This means setting aside the notion that anyone’s mind is going to be changed. Instead, seek understanding. Our politics stem from our values, which stem from our experiences. When we talk about our experiences, we are telling stories, and human beings are wired to attend to stories. Like kindergarteners when the teacher opens a new book, we lean in. For example, I can say, “I support Obamacare,” and we can argue until every crumb of pumpkin pie is gone whether we’re headed to socialized medicine. Or, I can tell you how my ex was able to change jobs right before back surgery because of Obamacare’s prohibition on denying coverage because of preexisting conditions. The job change from a struggling industry to a growing one is better for everyone — him, the kids we have in common, the state (more tax revenue). Anyone could take issue with my political stance, but they can’t dispute my experience.
Personal experience is the currency of human connection. J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” changed my view on Trump country in a way that no Fox commentator could. Through Vance’s eyes, I saw what it looks like when whole communities give up on the notion that hard work can get you ahead in life. Vance’s ascent from hillbilly origins to Yale Law School seems to prove that it still can, but he wrote the book to show how easily it could have gone the other way for him.
The truth is there’s a lot of people feeling hopeless and desperate in this country right now. I think that’s a diagnosis that many on both the left and the right share. Your relatives have adopted a scripted way of talking and thinking about this national ailment because it gives them comfort. Comfort isn’t a cure.
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities,” said Voltaire.
The trick is to get your relatives off script. I suggest starting with asking how things were when they were young. The idea is to get them talking from their hearts, not their amygdalas. From there, just maybe, they can hear you taking from your heart. This is really quite a radical act. To cut out the message makers and craft our own sui genesis conversations. Understanding can spread just as quickly as misunderstanding.
While we’re on the topic of politics, this is a friendly reminder that election day is Nov. 6 and you must return your ballot to the county clerk no later than 7 p.m. on that day. If you have not received your mail ballot, contact the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder’s office. See the county clerk’s website for information on drop-off locations. Don’t mail it at the last minute because if arrives after the election, it won’t be counted. And that would be worse than post-Thanksgiving indigestion.
Dear Rocky Road, My wife and I are reclusive, almost-retirees living in a non weed legal state. So, information and advice concerning our chosen medicine and the burgeoning industry are rather limited. Because we spent the majority of our years rearing a bunch of very cool kids (now adults), we simply neglected to set ourselves up financially for this time of our lives.My question is this. We’d like to invest a small amount of our monthly incomes toward cannabis futures, but we are unsure where to start and what would be the hot trends in the market? Living in a repressive environment doesn’t give us a lot of information and we’d like to get into this developing market. Any help or direction would be greatly appreciated. 2 Old Stoners
Dear 2 Old Stoners,
Your question reminds me of a movie scene I’m sure you’ll appreciate:
Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. … Plastics.
Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman): Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
That’s 1967’s “The Graduate,” but nowadays I guess it would be Benjamin telling Mr. McGuire, “One word: weed.”
As far as direction, I recommend opening the Google Maps and punching in D-U-R-A-N-G-O, C-O. If there’s a Merrill Lynch for pot portfolios anywhere, I’m sure it’s here.
Katie Burford has worked as a social worker, journalist, university instructor, nanny and barista. These days, she’s a mom, professional ice cream maker and writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, @rockyroadadvice (Twitter) or Rocky Road, 1021 Main Ave, Durango, CO 81301.