How to love the hater?
February 15, 2014 11:38 AM   Subscribe

What should I do about the bigotry of close family members?

I'm back home for a visit. Unfortunately that means having to deal with the racism (and we're a super mixed family, black and white and who knows what else), homophobia (and I'm gay), and all sorts of constant bigoted comments, you name it, they do it: xenophobia, anti-semitism, classism, it's incredible. I think it's got worse throughout the years, but it could be just my perception and sensibilities changing.

Plus I'm here because my elderly Mom is recovering from a mastectomy, so I really should be in my "best behavior," yet today I lost it and left the lunch table (we were done with eating if it matters) talking in a bit of a loud voice ("I have better things to do than listening to this") after she said that foreigners should have no rights and should never speak up about any injustices they see or suffer and should keep their heads down — including me (I live now in a foreign country).

I know exactly what to do and I won't lose it again. I will ignore, disengage, change the subject, pretend that I don't understand. But I don't know what to do with myself. Those people are good in general, and love me to bits. My question is: how can I deal with my emotions in this situation? How can I reconcile my love for them with my contempt for theirs words and the sadness and hurt that follows?
posted by TheGoodBlood to Human Relations (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
In the short term, I'd suggest you try meditation. It can help your body to cope with the physical effects of the stress that you are clearly under.

I'm sorry that you're in such a difficult situation. I wouldn't know what to say or do either, since your family members seem incapable of both empathy and reason. Consider focusing on what you can control: you own physical responses.
posted by monkeymonkey at 11:45 AM on February 15, 2014

I deal with some of that. I talk to God about a lot of it, since I know talking to the perpetrators at this point is like talking to the wall. My goal now is to not blow up and throw a (useless) temper tantrum while simultaneously not encouraging or agreeing with any of the crap I am hearing.

Let me send you an internet hug because only the Lord Himself knows how hard it is not to go all agent orange on these people. You have my sympathy.

In the short term, go for a walk (And talk to God if you have a mind. If not, a walk is still good.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:10 PM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

BTW my relatives are all devout Christians, while I am an atheist (didn't think it was needed to mention that before). They also despise all religions that are not theirs, including other Christian denominations. I'll stop threadsitting now!
posted by TheGoodBlood at 12:15 PM on February 15, 2014

Hold on to the hope of their redemption, or at least a reclamation of their empathy. We all have it in us to do better, though it may take a lifetime to get there.
posted by jquinby at 12:19 PM on February 15, 2014

Maybe you could try to pretend you are looking at them from some great vantage point, like up in an airplane. From there you can see the vast sea of humanity, each person suffering and causing suffering to others due to their own small fears, angst, prejudices, struggles, family histories, and so forth.
posted by slidell at 12:20 PM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's just reactionary nonsense. That is, they have most likely not put much thought into their opinions on race and sexuality, but have been conditioned to react by media and/or religion, etc. What you do about it is going to depend on how reliant you are upon them, and how much their behavior hurts you. Sometimes you just have to walk away, no matter how much that affects you. If you can learn to see them as damaged people who deserve your tolerance, you might see some change for the better over time. Depending on just how bad they are, though, this can take quite a toll on you. I doubt there's a solution to be offered from people on the internet that can really give you one the correct answer.

I wish you the best. I've been there.
posted by metagnathous at 12:38 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

After Nelson Mandela's death, there was a much-needed reminder for all of us about all the well-known, so called "mainstream" political voices who condemned Nelson Mandela as a Communist terrorist out to destroy civilization while praising the wisdom of the apartheid system that was just doing its best to guide South Africa into modernity. History proved them wrong and has exposed their moral failures.

But one thing that struck me was someone who wrote that we shouldn't necessarily use this opportunity to condemn those people because one of the goals of Mandela was to change minds. And he did so by continuing to proclaim the truth. It is ok to tell your relatives that they are behaving inappropriately and remind them that they have no moral ground to stand on. But remember that they are not irredeemable. The goal is to maintained a dignified firmness of what is good and true in the face of falsehood. But remember the dignified part.
posted by deanc at 12:42 PM on February 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am an American liberal, my mother is a total conservative. Mostly we agree to not talk about it. But when she just can't help herself, I try to gently relate her opinions to specific instances in her life, to specific people she knows and loves. And then walk her through the issue from that individual's standpoint. Or from her own, it's amazing how she can spew right-wing opinions that contradict her very own actions!
posted by raisingsand at 1:20 PM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Why was saying "I have better things to do than listen to this" and walking away a bad response? Sounds like it might have been quite appropriate!
posted by elf27 at 1:34 PM on February 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

My ex has a father like this, although not nearly as bad. She and I had a simple rule with him: talk about the offensive things, and we leave. After planning this rule over the phone, we crossed coasts to visit, and on the very first day he broke the rule. She said "let's go" and we got our things and did so, calmly and quietly, even as he followed us out the door making things worse by trying to justify his words. Eventually he got over it and realized the only way he got access to his daughter was to knock it off when she was around. Sometimes you have to draw boundaries and stick to them, and then it becomes their problem to deal with (as it should be.)

And yeah, seconding that the choice to walk out was a good one. Next time, warn them you'll do it again I'd they can't rein in their bigoted speech, and when you do it again be calm about it, like it's them giving you a get-out-of-jail card to leave the room whenever they're being jerks.
posted by davejay at 1:47 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're not EVER going to change them. Love them but do not engage in trying to reform them. You will be wasting your life force. I like Sliddel's advice, "pretend you are looking at them from some great vantage point, like up in an airplane."
posted by crw at 2:24 PM on February 15, 2014

Sonascope has some thoughts about this very issue.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:01 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

When my friend first said the following to me it changed my thinking about a similar situation.

"It's my job to love him and sometimes to do that I have to not listen to him."

Maybe walking out (though if you feel bad about the way you did it before you could try leaving calmly, which might be easier if it is now a planned reaction rather then a knee-jerk one) was the right thing to do. You probably do have better and more productive ways to spend your time. Especially if you want to continue to have your family in your life.

Good luck, you are in tough place. I hope your mother recovers well.
posted by rip at 4:38 PM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Only you will know when and if this might be applicable to your situation, but for family members who have only been exposed to one established mindset in their personal sphere, you might be a very valuable voice. Not necessarily for Gramma, but for the ears listening while the grownups talk. The elders and authorities don't face a lot of dissent in some family cultures, so it's easy for them to reinforce beliefs about the abstract caricatures they imagine instead of real, complex human individuals. But so many of those attitudes fall apart when you realize you'd never think such awful things about Cousin Jamie, who's smart and kind and makes an incredible potato salad and doesn't mind takesies-backsies when you play Monopoly.

It's not your job to be the token sane person. But if I can think of things that would have been valuable for me to hear as a young person, it can help me get through some otherwise difficult visits.
posted by Lou Stuells at 6:20 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The thing I've had to accept is that it is unlikely I'll change minds in the short term. With relatives we are in for the long haul. The good thing is that world views can and do shift. You are showing them difference in real life, something they can't ignore. It's great that you are able to be there.

If it won't make things explode I will call out comments. I find it works better one on one, in a group you are usually asking for disaster. If it becomes too much I do what you did and walk away. There is nothing wrong with this reaction. I usually mutter something to myself about the higher road and I keep a book around the living room. If they come after me to argue or press points I retire to my room. And then I read Metafilter to cheer myself up.
posted by Cuke at 6:27 PM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I normally say something like, "And that's my queue to leave!" As I get up and walk out. When the person (my dad usually) tries to justify their hate for Muslims or gays or whatever, I tell them I'm not interested in participating in hate speech so I'll leave them to it. The other thing I've done with my parents is say something along the lines of "How very Christian of you." If you make a direct parallel between their hate speech and the fact they claim to be Christian it normally at least shames them into shutting their mouth, if not actually changing their minds. But generally I just try and steer clear altogether, so I don't stay under their roof when I visit because it's just not worth it. Keep the trips short and sweet and steer clear of inflammatory topics. Best of luck, I know how hard it is.
posted by Jubey at 10:09 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

My parents sound similar, although because we are a conflict-avoidant family, we tend to steer clear of topics that would cause these kinds of problems. Doesn't stop them from making off-handed remarks that hurt, though, even if they don't need to be directly challenged.

What I have found works in terms of dealing with my feelings about it afterwards:
- Behave well at the time. It gives you the moral high ground (in your own head, at least) and means you don't have to beat yourself up for behaving badly, if you are that way inclined. This doesn't mean you have to wear it unchallenged, it will depend on the situation. Anyway, other comments above have addressed that so I won't.

- Write about it at the soonest quiet, private opportunity. Paper journal is best for these kinds of things rather than on the internets. Just dump out your feelings.

- Try to remember that from their point of view, you and your beliefs may be just as upsetting to them as theirs are to you. This is maddening on one level, especially when they are spouting nonsense, but I think it does help a bit to realise that trying to make them change their firmly-held beliefs is just as bad as if they tried to do an intervention and send me to one of those ExGay things. You can't make people become more tolerant, you have to embody the tolerance yourself. This goes into behaving well, too.

- At the soonest opportunity, find a sympathetic ear and tell them all about it. Try to make it funny if you can, and have a laugh about it. Swapping stories about this kind of thing can really help you feel connected again, and laughter always helps even if it is painful laughter.

(In that spirit, I remember once years ago my dad and I were discussing movies to go see. I remarked that I wasn't really interested in the latest Harry Potter film. My dad said he wouldn't see it anyway because it was "against his religion". I quietly remarked that actually, Harry Potter is all about good vs evil and good wizards and magic vs evil wizards and magic. Just like in The Lord of the Rings. Which he loves to bits, and which we did wind up watching instead. No idea if he actually agreed or changed his mind, but at least I tried.)
posted by Athanassiel at 4:16 PM on February 16, 2014

Man, I just know what I'm walking to in other family member's homes. I can always expect 15 minutes of ill informed Democrat bashing after dinner just before desert. I've learned to just not engage. Although not as close to the topic as you are, I am highly upset by homophobia and anti-gay marriage rhetoric and activities, one night my family started making fudge packing jokes. Literally some of the most childish humor I've heard since high school. "fudge packers, hehehe", my 60 year old uncle chuckled to himself. I was initially appalled and then just realized that their opinions are soooooooo immature, sense of humors could use an adjustment and that I AM self-righteously BETTER THAN THEM! Just kidding, just a joke, but really maybe not. Just realize that if you care for them that you are stuck with them. You are probably wiser than them with your open mind and ability to let these things go to a certain point.

Seriously, your level of self awareness and sensitivity that they lack is evident in the fact that you are asking the question of how to deal with them. Obviously this is a skill they never learned and they would most likely never ask a question like this. YOU ARE BETTER THAN THEM! Again, I'm kidding, not really, let's be honest here. Good on you. Good on you. May the force be with you.
posted by Che boludo! at 9:26 PM on February 18, 2014

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