undercover subversive gifts for conservative family members
December 12, 2017 5:11 PM   Subscribe

What are things I can buy my depressingly conservative family members for Christmas that might have the side effect of making them a teensy bit less depressingly conservative?

I’ve been putting off buying Christmas gifts for some of my Trump-loving relatives because I have the rage. I’m looking for ideas for presents I can buy them that might open their eyes just a little, something they won’t immediately toss in the garbage? Ideas for any age/gender welcome, but super bonus points for anything that has a chance of getting to my angry, Hannity-loving, Vietnam vet father (I know, wishful thinking, but still...)
posted by logic vs love to Human Relations (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Non-fiction books that have nothing to do with politics, to open their minds a little. Preferably ones that are infused with compassion and empathy. One I've been reading lately is Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; and other lessons from the crematorium by Caitlin Doughty.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:20 PM on December 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Very Christian, but also very compassionate, about the weak, the damaged, the discarded and grace. It might lure a few hard hearts.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:25 PM on December 12, 2017 [8 favorites]

There is a lot of risk of backfiring here. Eg, Bolz-Weber takes strong theological positions that will do nothing but annoy people that disagree with her liberal theology.
posted by jpe at 6:24 PM on December 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

Novels increase empathy
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:32 PM on December 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Humans of New York - it'd be hard not to feel warm toward this beautiful diverse collection of people and perspectives.

Or, you could get them something that doesn't have a message but does benefit a worthy cause - here's one of the first search results.
posted by lakeroon at 6:40 PM on December 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

I immediately thought of A History of God by Karen Armstrong, a former Roman Catholic nun who is now a respected religious historian. But she's disliked by evangelicals because of her religious pluralism, so depending on who the gift recipient is, they might see it as you trying to indoctrinate them. (If they skew science-y or history-y, though, they might like it.)

Along these lines, a popular science book by Neil Degrasse Tyson or some other accessible scientist who is not overtly political could be appealing to some. My dad was a huge conservative but he was still interested in science and we could connect that way.

Do any of them like comedy? What about memoirs by stand-up comedians who are people of color, like Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari or Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, to build empathy. Or you could go with them to a stand-up comedy show by comics of color.

If they are anti-immigrant and are not of Native American origin, what about 23&Me, or family history documents/books about their ancestral home, that could shed light on why their ancestors came to the U.S.? Depending on their ethnic background, stories about their own ancestors fleeing poverty/facing xenophobia to come to the U.S. might help them relate to the people seeking to come to the U.S. today.

Great question BTW... I'll be following this thread.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 6:47 PM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think it will be hard to prompt someone else to compassion from a POV of rage. I say this as someone who is sympathetic to your anger and know that it comes from hurt and worry. Compassion does seem to be the thing that begets compassion.

What do they want for Christmas? What do they need? Do they enjoy reading or music? Do you have overlapping interests? What do you love about them? Or when you felt love for them at a time when you weren't angry, what was it that you appreciated?

My folks are conservative. I admit that at times I've tried to sneakily sway their viewpoints through reading material. They're both fairly compassionate people - were before I ever gave them books for xmas - but this hasn't really worked to change their political positions. They still think conservative policies are the answer to the difficulties of the world. They still voted for Trump. Even when they love the books I gifted and recommend them to other people.

Also, material that for one person stirs empathy might for another seem manipulative or might not land at all (boy has this surprised me in the past). It's hard to predict how people will react.

I'm assuming that your parents are decent human beings and not assholes. If they are assholes, go somewhere else for the holiday. If they are decent human beings, buy presents for the most decent parts of them, or centered on the things that connect you.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 7:21 PM on December 12, 2017 [22 favorites]

A subscription to the National Review. It’s conservative, make no bones about it, but pretty solidly anti-Trump, and it’s published things like “The Conservative Case Against Roy Moore”, to take the most recent. It’s close enough to his politics that he won’t toss it and may actually read it, but pushes away from the fashy horror that is Trumpism.
posted by corb at 7:24 PM on December 12, 2017 [15 favorites]

Give them donations to christian charities in Africa.
posted by Oyéah at 7:33 PM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

It has to play to their real interests or it won’t take.

I sent my (center-right, traditionalist) mother-in-law a book by LDS blogger Jana Riess (a devout and proud convert but very nonjudgmental and forward-thinking in her outlook), and as far as I know MIL never cracked it open. I took her to a production of Ragtime and was terrified it wouldn’t resonate at all, but it really did. The key wasn’t faith, it was song and dance.

What are your family’s locks shaped like? What gets them excited enough that rage can’t even compete?
posted by armeowda at 8:46 PM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Buy them a LifeStraw. Only costs about $20, and the wilderness survival utility of it may appeal to any doomsday prepper instincts. Plus, a portion of the funds are used to distribute water purifiers to primary schools in developing communities that don’t have ready access to safe drinking water.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 1:03 AM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I’d give the gift of a cow or goat from Heiffer International. Might as well let someone actually benefit from dollars spent. And it’s prert hard to begrudge supporting a food source for a family.
posted by barnone at 6:14 AM on December 13, 2017 [8 favorites]

Something that I've found satisfying is underscoring to people that liberals are in fact compassionate and charitable and that conservative people don't have a monopoly on morality. In that vein, a gift to something that conservatives support in words but not always in deeds - like veterans' organizations - might be good.
posted by mosst at 6:22 AM on December 13, 2017 [7 favorites]

given your username, my advice may be eponysterical, but...

Hi. You'd probably find me depressingly conservative (but I did vote against Trump and for Jones, FWIW).

Can you just stack arms for a bit and get them something they like? Does Memaw like to knit while watching Fox news? Yarn or other knitting supplies are something that cuts across political divides. Does Dad like fishing, or saxophone albums*? There might be something in that department.

Because most of the time I've ever had my mind changed (and it has been changed a time or two), the thing that made me think hard about the other side's position was that I had some common bond with that person.

*as long as it's not Kenny G
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:53 AM on December 13, 2017 [7 favorites]

I heard in a cultural competence training recently that one of the things that is most effective in changing one's thinking about certain groups of people is media that features someone who belongs to that group, presented in a positive light. So for example, if a person dislikes/distrusts/fears gay people, a film that has a gay character in it - but which is not about being gay. Ditto for other prejudices based on visible differences like race, disability, or even poverty. All kinds of cultural and generational differences can be included here too. Extra bonus points if the story is about something the person can really get interested in. To use some stereotypes, movies about sports or the military often work well.

So, if there's some group in particular your family is not okay with, maybe just a movie or other easy-to-digest thing that features an actor of that group? Famous figures and documentary films seem to be an exception to the "not about the experience of being part of the group" aspect as it was described to me, based on the examples I was given during the training. Examples I remember from the list we were shown include Remember the Titans, Sister Act, Men in Black, and Rush Hour.

But I also really like randomkeystrike's idea and agree with it, both on principle and from experience.
posted by Urban Winter at 9:48 AM on December 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

What does he like? If this were my dad, I would probably get him books by Terry Pratchett, who is pretty good about getting his worldview in there in a pragmatic and easy to swallow way. Maybe similar authors in your dad's area of interest would be good? The main point here is to make certain they tell a good story!
posted by backwards compatible at 10:08 AM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do you think they'd enjoy a network show about an all-American family with American family values? A DVD set of This Is Us could be a good fit. It's kind of a stealthily progressive show, and a crowd-pleaser, and it's hard to criticize the progressive aspects of it because they are so thoroughly wrapped up oft-cited "traditional" values--lots of bootstrapping and pro-life* stuff, and togetherness as family and being grateful for opportunities, etc. etc.

*actual pro-life, not just scolding abortion-havers
posted by witchen at 12:11 PM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Because most of the time I've ever had my mind changed (and it has been changed a time or two), the thing that made me think hard about the other side's position was that I had some common bond with that person.

Randomkeystrike said it better.
posted by bunderful at 2:24 PM on December 13, 2017

IMHO Neil Tyson can be pretty combative on culture war issues.
posted by tracer at 7:40 AM on December 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Food, from places that might make them think a little. Hummus from the Middle East. Coffee in package that talks a little bit about the farmers who grew it. American food products from sources that might enlighten. Example: here in Madison, WI, Feed Kitchen has a program with cooking school for ex cons. We've bought delicious cookies and pies from a guy who's learning the baking trade and getting back on his feet.

They say a way to a man's heart is through his stomach (it works on me), and I'm convinced that food can also be a way into someone's head as well.

Even if it doesn't succeed in opening their minds, if it's good stuff they'll either forgive you for the gesture or they won't even notice that you had an ulterior motive.
posted by altcountryman at 8:40 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

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