How to deal with a conservative relative during the holidays

Dr. George Lakoff's small lesson in the power of empathy

How to deal with a conservative relative during the holidays

A few years ago, right before the holidays, someone wrote in with a question for Dr. Lakoff: “When my family gets together for the holidays, how do I avoid getting into a political argument with my conservative grandfather?”

“Don’t argue with your grandfather,” Dr. Lakoff answered. “Instead, ask him to tell you a story about a time he did something good for someone else. Listen, and then ask him to tell you another one.”

FrameLab is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

The simple but powerful idea, present in much of Dr. Lakoff’s work, was that empathy is the antidote to conservative thought.

Empathy is at the heart of progressive thought. It is the capacity to put oneself in the shoes of others — not just individuals, but whole categories of people: one's countrymen, those in other countries, other living beings, especially those who are in some way oppressed, threatened, or harmed. Empathy is the capacity to care, to feel what others feel, to understand what others are facing and what their lives are like. Empathy extends well beyond feeling to understanding, and it extends beyond individuals to groups, communities, peoples, even species. Empathy is at the heart of real rationality, because it goes to the heart of our values, which are the basis of our sense of justice. — George Lakoff, Huffington Post, 2011.

The lesson I took from his answer: Even by stimulating a memory of empathy, you can help activate empathy in the brain and, through repetition, help change people for the better. At the very least, this technique can help create a better holiday memory of grandpa by steering the conversation in a positive direction.

This holiday season, as we gather with our families, some of us will have plenty of opportunities to spread joy, love and empathy. If you find yourself on the cusp of an argument with a Republican relative — or just trading barbs with a stranger in an online forum — you might try this experiment in activating empathy.

Thank you for reading (and subscribing!) to FrameLab. We truly appreciate your support. We’ll be ramping up for the critical year of 2023, as the information war enters an accelerated new phase.

Until then, we at FrameLab wish you a wonderful holiday season and a very Happy New Year.

Gil Duran | FrameLab

background pattern
Photo by Cristina Glebova on Unsplash

FrameLab is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to George Lakoff and Gil Duran: FrameLab.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.