Pop Culture

Doublespeak Your Way Through Awkward Family Gatherings

Family gatherings can quickly go off the rails.
Family gatherings can quickly go off the rails. Photo by Jeff Eaton/Flickr via CC
Holidays are a wonderful time of year until they're not. With the nation currently so divided along party lines, it's safe to say that some of those differing viewpoints will be found within your own family. Mix in alcohol, long-running feuds, hurt feelings, the stress of reflecting back on a year that might not have been so successful, and it's easy to see how arguments can soon dominate a family gathering.

Politics, religion, finances, health and gossip are all dangerous topics, but there will always be at least one person who treads down these mine-filled paths. Once conflict escalates, it's hard to rein it back in. Whether it ends in fisticuffs, slammed doors, or a hasty departure, nobody can enjoy a get-together tainted by a tense atmosphere.

So why not try something completely different this year? Our recommendation is to defuse the situation by doublespeaking your way through awkward family gatherings.

Rule No. 1 is to give up completely on trying to convert somebody else to your way of thinking, at least in a public setting. If a provocative statement is uttered, oftentimes that person just wants to be heard, so innocuous phrases like these might do the trick: "I find that remarkable. That certainly merits discussion. Let me think about that. I hear what you're saying. You make an interesting point."

See what you did there? You didn't agree, but you also didn't throw any fuel on the fire.

If discussion about politics still persists, try a few phrases that will be perceived differently depending on whether the listener is wearing red or blue tinted glasses. "I have to say there does seem to be a lot of corruption in government." Dems will instantly think Trump-Giuliani-Manafort-Cohen while the GOP crowd will assume you're speaking about Hillary-Biden-Hunter-Schiff. Another handy phrase is, "I find the polarization of America has really generated a renewed interest in how our government works."

When the gossip-mongers start up with their snide comments about who has gained weight, or drinks too much, or can't seem to hold a job, best to answer quickly — "He/she is certainly living life to the fullest" or "It's been said that money isn't everything" — and then move on to rule No. 2.

Rule No. 2  is to quickly change the subject. Have prepared a few tidbits that are hopefully more interesting than the weather: animals and technology are always safe. "OMG the Macaroni penguin chicks finally hatched at Moody Gardens and they are so stinkin' cute!" or "Have you see the new Tesla Cybertruck? Its wedge profile makes it look like a DeLorean tank but really, really, really far into the future."

Rule No. 3 is the fine art of being gracious when you "hate/don't want/can't use" the gift you've just received. "Oh, you shouldn't have" is a handy reply or "Thank you for thinking of me."

While minimizing conflict in group settings is key to having a successful family get-together, the goal isn't to be deceptive or untruthful.

Later on, when you're one-on-one with somebody with whom you don't agree, try to have a non-confrontational conversation and find some common ground. Even within the political divide, most can agree on bipartisan issues: the need for a stable economy, domestic terrorism, a healthy jobs market, and the PACT Act (H.R. 724), a new law that revises and expands criminal provisions with respect to animal crushing.

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The holidays will be over soon enough.

These private moments also offer an opportunity to speak truthfully to gift-givers about their misguided purchases. "I know you spent a lot of time and money buying me [fill in the blank], and I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but I need to tell you that my needs have changed over the years." Then follow it up with, "Do you think we could just skip the gifting next year" or "I've become a huge advocate for animal welfare and I know [charity of choice] would benefit from your contribution in my name."

Who knows? With the right diplomacy, family gatherings just might become enjoyable again. It certainly merits discussion.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney