We want our memories and family stories to be warm and inviting. We want to welcome family into our lives—into our past—through our narratives. Which is as it should be. But (you knew there was a but coming) that can mute us when it comes to issues that weigh heavily on our hearts and mind. Because not all our family members see things the same way, we self-censure, leaving out anything that is divisive. We don’t share the parts of ourselves that might alienate.
It’s like the old rule about not talking about religion and politics at the table. It keeps the peace, because it keeps anyone at the table from feeling marginalized. We can focus on our commonalities, our friendship or familial love, without anyone feeling challenged.
Family Peace versus Honesty
Sometimes there comes a time when keeping your stance to yourself becomes—or feels—dishonest. You’re hiding something that you’re passionate about. You’re choking back hurt or offense on a regular basis.
Of course, only you can determine when it’s time to take a stand. You’re the only one in a position to determine if it’s worth crossing that line. You might choose deep breathing over a sparring match or negotiating a minefield of hurt feelings and estrangement.
When it’s Time to Take a Stand
My friend Bobby Ivory likes to say that meaningful discourse needs to “bring more light than heat.” In other words, enlighten others without putting them on the defensive. Not easy, I know, but worth the effort.
Writing allows you the luxury of ranting and raging to get your feeling onto paper, then editing those feelings into something you want to share with others. Something that will promote understanding. Insert your “I messages.” Delete the accusations.
Using Stories to Take a Stand
Storytelling becomes the spoonful of sugar that makes the bitterest of medicine (or reality) go down. Not just in a metaphoric way. The cool people who study neuroscience have found that storytelling allows the listeners’ brain to process stories much differently than they do facts or debates. (Read The Science Behind Storytelling.)
Explain why you’re taking a stand
Normally, when you tell your stories, you have the luxury of a friendly, captured audience. You’re ‘preaching to the choir.’ That’s not always the case when you take a stand. Part of the art of persuasion is to invest your audience in your story. You can do that by explaining why you feel you have to take a stand.
You can even use a third person voice or example, if you don’t want to make the conversation a me-versus-you argument. For instance, if you’re opposed to North Carolina House Bill 2 (full disclosure, I am), you might tell the story of your good friend who is now uncomfortable traveling through the state and how you came to understand his or her situation. A simple rest stop becomes an anxiety attack. Perhaps he or she wonders why private decisions can’t simply remain private without having to suffer the humiliation of visiting an alternative restroom.
Touch hearts and imagination
Touch your readers’ hearts and imaginations by using sensory-rich examples that will help them envision your stance. For instance, when my sons asked why restrooms have to be gender specific in the first place, I tried to explain to them all the things that women do in bathrooms that are completely unrelated to relieving themselves. Since they claim I ruined dinner that day by talking about “adjusting the girls,” I figure I inspired their imaginations. (Apparently they think girls just do a super-thorough job of washing their hands and come out looking fabulous.)
When we speak, our body language helps us communicate. We can use open gestures, smiles, and friendly eye-contact to put listeners at ease. That’s harder in writing. As you write and edit, try to put yourself in your readers’ place. What turn of phrases would you use in speech to put them at ease? How would you acknowledge and de-escalate their discomfiture? Incorporate those verbal tics into your writing.
When did you decide it was time to take a stand? How did that affect your story? How did you write (say) your piece?