BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

Advice for the Modern Man: The Election Has Torn My Family Apart

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(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)

In the presidential election, my sister voted differently than my parents, and it’s causing a lot of tension.

My parents have very strong religious-based beliefs, and they cannot understand how my sister voted the way she did. My mom is so upset that she’s crying daily.

Neither my parents nor my sister are open to hearing differing viewpoints, and they would never change their opinion about who was the right candidate to vote for.

I miss how my family used to be, when we could all spend time together without constantly bickering or someone ending up with hurt feelings. How do I deal with this and help my family be happy again?
–Emma; San Diego, CA

Great question, Emma, as it’s one the entire country seems to be asking. And there’s no easy answer.

I am not political, and I am not about to make an argument about who should have won or lost the election. While most everybody was shocked by its result, I’ve been shocked by the emotional backlash in its aftermath.

Though in hindsight that was foolish, as it was the safest bet on the board.

Our society has become polarized. Not only has everyone chosen sides, they have dug in their heels on the extremes, unwilling to take a step toward the middle.

“I hold the high ground,” we declare, “while everybody else is some combination of abomination. Whatever you are, you’re not worthy of my (Facebook) friendship.”

My brother, Brian, is a rabbi, and he discussed this theme in a sermon he gave on Friday, Nov. 11, three days after the election.

Truthfully, I was tempted to simply copy and paste its text here, because, a) it expresses my thoughts on this topic more eloquently than I ever could, and b) doing so would free me up to go read about Texas Longhorns football.

But plagiarism — of a sermon, no less — would demand epic repenting come Yom Kippur, so I’m not going to do that. What I will do, though, is snatch large swaths of it to help me with the heavy lifting.

For instance, Brian explains that one of the main reasons we’re shell-shocked is because many of us live in our own bubbles, surrounded by like-minded people. These bubbles not only serve as echo chambers, but as walls that alienate us from one another:

“To me, this is the biggest takeaway from the 2016 presidential election — and it’s one that, to my mind, really deserves our attention:

We don’t know our fellow citizens.

We live in the same country and the same communities, we drive on the same roads, we go to the same movies — and yet we don’t know each other, and we certainly don’t understand each other.

Bottom line: Inside the bubble, we are so sure that we’re right and good, and the other is wrong and evil.

It’s an age-old human story: When we don’t know the other, it’s really easy to demonize them.”

A bubble can form within the same gene pool, even under the same roof, as has happened in your household. Watching your family at war has to be as maddening as it is disheartening, especially as an innocent bystander.

But it’s important to remember that that’s what you are: a bystander. This battle is taking place between your parents and sister, so it’s up to your parents and sister to resolve it — not you. It’s their relationship, meaning it’s not your burden.

That said, you’re still part of this family, and right now, your family is in crisis, which gives you every right to speak up.

There are no obvious solutions here, but as with any insurmountable problem, it’s best to break it down into manageable pieces.

In your case, that’s the short-term and the long-term…

The Short-Term

Someone once told me that when you have surgery, for every hour you’re under anesthesia, you require one month to return to full strength. In other words, four hours under equals four months of recovery.

I don’t know how official that conversion is (pretty sure it came from my mom), but the underlying point remains: When you have your insides messed with and your relationship with reality rearranged, it takes time to heal.

Right now, your parents and sister are healing. The election did a number on them, which is why I’d suggest to them that they stop talking about it with each other, at least for the immediate future.

I’m a believer in communication, in hashing things out, but they’ve tried that and it hasn’t worked. Their emotions are too raw, and they’re in need of a cooling-off period.

That’s what has worked, by and large, for my wife. She’s as politically passionate as anyone, so much so that she likely ranks Nov. 8, 2016, among her most disappointing days — despite the fact that she saw Adele live in concert.

Since, she’s implemented a near 360-degree blackout — no watching the news, no reading political websites and certainly no discussions with anyone, not even people with whom she agrees.

Call it avoidance or denial or whatever you want. I call it healthy. You can’t move forward until you’re done looking back.

The Long-Term

The old saying declares, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” For many, that saying is being put to the test right now.

There’s no telling what the next four years (and beyond) will hold. As far as I’m concerned, they could go in any of a million different directions. Let’s hope they don’t go in a direction that kills us.

In the face of uncertainty, it’s natural to look outward, to point fingers and place blame, to feel overwhelmed by this big, wide world that seemingly has us at its mercy.

But now, more than ever, is the time to focus on what falls within the scope of our control.

I’ll let Brian take it from here:

“If you’re worried about what lies ahead, be cautious and alert, but don’t be overtaken by fear.

Stand up for what you know is right, fight for the vulnerable, and do your part to build a just society.

If friendships and family relationships are strained because of this divisive election, reach out, heal them and make peace.

Let’s make this election a wake-up call, so that we’ll finally realize how important it is to break through the bubble we live in and get to know our neighbors who think differently than we do, and try to understand them and affirm their humanity.

The future of our country depends on it.”

And so does your family’s.

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This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

 

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2 Replies

  1. Jill Jacobs

    This is a wonderful post, identifying the problem and ‘possible’ solution. So many of us are experiencing similar worries regarding friends and family. This is a very divided and fearful nation right now. Thank you Brent (and Brian). The Stoller boys are very sensitive and wise.

    1. Brent Stoller

      Thanks so much for sharing, Jill!

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