My best friend and I talked about her Thanksgiving festivities this week. Two of her children participated in their traditional family dinner. The third child opted not to attend because there has been too much family conflict.
I have watched with great sadness as this family drama has played out for many years. They cycle of conflict keeps everybody on edge and when people are on edge, they are more likely to act impulsively and say unkind things. The beat goes on. Years pass. Nothing gets resolved.
With the holidays upon us, we often find ourselves feeling ambivalent about the expectation of family togetherness. On one hand, it would be great to get together to share some food, fun and conversation. Yet, all families are subject to differences in opinions and lifestyles, which are often sources of conflict. We long for the connectedness, yet we sometimes dread the thought of being together.
We all want to feel like we belong. We all want to be understood and accepted. We all respond to softness of heart and open-mindedness. Conflict shows up when we are invested in seeing the world through our own lenses and sticking to our opinions, no matter what. Open-heartedness requires us to validate the other person's point of view. It calls us to be curious about the other person rather than trying to convince them that there is only one right way to view the world: Our way.
Our basic relational needs are simple. We all want to know that we can reach out to each other. We know that life cannot actually be lived alone and that we need each other to listen and validate our experience of the world. If I reach out to you, can I depend on the fact that you will be there? Will you respond to me with openness and a generosity of spirit? Will you be compassionate with me, even if we disagree?
We also need to know that we are valued by the people in our lives. Can you see what is good and positive about me regardless of our differences? Are you able to tell me that I am important to you?
My wish for you this holiday season is an attitude of acceptance and tenderness toward the people in your life. An open mind and an open heart are the greatest gifts you can give others and yourself.
I wish you peace and tranquility in all your relationships.