Here we are at Thanksgiving 2016, now plus or minus a couple of people.
This year my parents and my siblings and I will be staying somewhere other than the "Big House" - in a hotel or an air bnb. The Big House has been turned over to the younger folks and their kids. We will come to the house early each morning, eat and celebrate and clean up, and then return to relative peace and quiet at the end of the day.
Speaking of important topics - a couple of years ago right before the Paris Climate Change Conference 2015, I did an interview for our local NPR program, Allegheny Front, about how to talk about climate change at family gatherings where there may be different beliefs and opinions about the issue and/or what to do about it. I emailed the interview link to my family - many of us ended up having some fruitful discussions with no rancor (at least that I could tell).
Last year, Allegheny Front replayed the original interview because, well, the presidential election had just happened and we were facing the possibility of even more contentious discussions. We in Lexington, KY had another lovely Thanksgiving in 2016 (mostly because that is how we have learned to roll in the midst of differences).
Last week, Kara Holsopple of Allegheny Front interviewed me a second time because - did you know that a lot has happened since January 2017?!? And that we have a bit of divisiveness in our country that, in some families and communities, can lead to estrangement and/or violent words and actions?!? Many of us have become even more politically engaged and impassioned in this context of divisiveness, making the possibility of sparks flying even more likely.
Those of us who are involved in work to protect our environment for the future are feeling an increased urgency about our work. All indications are that our planet - what Pope Francis calls "Our Common Home" - is continuing to warm at rates faster than predicted. And the seas to rise and the coral reefs to die and the storms to rage more strongly than before and the droughts to be drier and longer than before. And so we are amping up the action. And side by side with the progressing climate change are roll-backs and undoings of decades of legislation and acts designed to stem the change and protect our planet. This is scary stuff. How can we manage the disagreements and discord that might arise in the face of discussions about these situations?
In October, I had the chance to participate in Climate Reality Leadership Training here in Pittsburgh. There were 1400 of us from across the globe - including over 400 Pittsburghers, and many people from Chatham! Yay! We are mighty!
FIRST - the don'ts:
1. Just giving factual information seldom changes minds.
2. Preaching or lecturing almost always backfires.
3. Alcohol and politics do not mix well.
And some do's:
1. Be aware of your own sense of urgency and how that shows up in your interactions with others. Is it inviting or annoying?
2. Be curious about possible areas of commonality. For example, what outdoor experiences or nature spaces have been most meaningful to each of you, and why? What concerns or joys do you share about our life here on earth?
3. Engage in a genuine dialogue where there is space for you and others to voice your opinions and to be heard respectfully. You cannot enter into the conversation with the express goal of changing someone's mind - aim to build a relationship where you can learn about something together.
4. When someone states that they don't believe in climate change, one good question is - what about the climate change idea most concerns you? This may allow an opportunity for you to provide some resources, if the person is open to it. if you do provide informational resources, you may also honestly say that, while you are sharing the most up-to-date info that you are aware of, you don't know everything, that new information is constantly emerging, and that you have to work hard to stay on top of what is accurate and important. (We are all learning more about this every day.)
5. Acknowledge that the issue is complex and huge - climate change is known as a "wicked problem" with multiple interacting contributing factors, and no silver bullet solution. Recognize that thinking about it can feel overwhelming - which can lead us to shut down, ignore or avoid news and facts, and maintain our positions without really studying the issues.
6. Tell a personal story that might be meaningful to others - this might be related to successfully fighting fossil-fuel-related air pollution in your community so that fewer children would suffer from asthma and other health problems. It might be your own struggles with the overwhelming nature of the problem - when you ask yourself "What difference can one person make?" Or "How do I even find out what I can do?" You may also share your sense of loss when you have seen beloved natural spaces destroyed - the plant, animal, and water systems - as happens with climate change as well as certain types of fossil fuel extraction or industrialization. And many of us who are grandparents can honestly speak to our sadness and fear about what the earth might be like as our grandchildren (and our adult children) move into the future.
7. And if you are actively involved in movements to fight climate change - own it, and your passion and reasons for doing so. Let your excitement and energy show. The key is doing this without denigrating someone who is not on board.
Finally, remember that you can just opt out of adding these kinds of discussions to your holiday gathering! Just enjoy the being together.
Giving thanks for loved ones and for our common home and for you, and looking forward to Close and Loud and Loving Togetherness.
And on the eve of our Thanksgiving season, I will leave you with a lovely and important piece by my friend and colleague, Britney Brinkman, about this time of year from the perspective of her Cherokee Heritage. Read and think and enjoy.