Thanksgiving is just around the corner. It’s that national holiday when we celebrate family dysfunction. This is especially true for those of us concerned about the environment, climate, and the earth.
You’ve resolved ahead of time not to engage with Uncle Ralph. (Why does your mother always invite him?) You’ve even thought of some witty repartee. But you know it’s going to happen. You make it through the meal, but then after each of you have each had a few drinks he says something like… I just read about how Tofurkey is causing climate change. He laughs as if this is the starting bell of some race.
Our national discourse has been reduced along party lines and most families, who are still speaking, have members of each party. But there is no conversation across those party lines because each party sticks to it’s own group identity regardless of the issue, even within families.
According to a poll by Pew Research Center, more than half of Democrats (55%) say the Republican Party makes them “afraid,” while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party.
In order to tackle really big problems like the climate, we need everybody. Hiding from the other side isn’t going to change anything. We need a frank discussion. We can not sit and be afraid. We need to engage; otherwise our democracy is lost.
Here are six things you might want to try, instead of kicking Uncle Ralph in the nuts.
1. Take a Breath
We have politicized the environment. It doesn’t have to be that way. All of us should be concerned about the state of our earth. Unfortunately, all politics are moral. And morals are tied to our values and belief systems. So we are unlikely to “convince” someone in one conversation to change their beliefs.
The first step is to simply take a breath. What other people say and do is about them not about you.
2. Ask Questions
There is no climate “debate,” so stop fighting the frame that climate change isn’t real
I’ve written about responding to the climate frame that climate change isn’t real. Trying to fight a frame only strengthens it. Since Trump was elected we are back to trying to prove climate change is real. This is a fruitless exercise. It pushes our buttons and does nothing.
Instead, you might ask a question. Why do you believe that?
3. Stop spouting facts about climate change
Facts and the truth matter. But spouting facts at the wrong time will only drive people away. It only forces them to think about facts of their own. Environmentalists are under the delusion that facts reasons will persuade people. So leave the 405 parts per million and charts at home. They will help, but only at the right time and only when asked as a question.
4. Ask yourself a few questions first
- Can I listen? If you are not ready to listen you are not ready to understand.
- What are their values? We can’t understand unless we know someone’s core values. Asking questions is a path to beginning to understand. For example,
- Why do you believe that?
- How does that affect you?
- How do you feel about that?
- Am I the right messenger? Often we are simply the wrong messenger. The barriers to trust are too high. So it’s often easier for business people to engage with business people and farmers with farmers. And family with family.
- What stories do I have that relate to those values? See below.
5. Find common values
Surprisingly many people on opposite sides of a question actually share common values. They might be “security,” or “family,” or “independence” or “loyalty,” or “reverence,” or “caring for others.” We can’t really understand where someone is coming from until we understand their values. But if the value we are most concerned about is “caring for others” and they are concerned about “security,” the conversation will go nowhere.
It is possible to share values. One can be pro-security and pro-environment or pro-independence and pro-nature. But finding a common value is the key. It allows one to build trust and find a common bond.
6. Share your story
It’s not what you think, it’s how you feel. Having a deep conversation also requires you to share. Sharing the “why” rather than the “what” is key. So if you are concerned about your kids “security” in a climate changing world then perhaps finding that common value allows your conversation to progress to “what” things affect security. Spend some time ahead of this Thanksgiving thinking about your values and your stories that relate to them.
There’s no silver bullet to having a meaningful conversation and this isn’t meant to be a therapy session. But we need to get better at understanding each other. Thanksgiving is not the time to avoid the conversation, but to begin it. Because the earth needs it and we need it.
We Are All Connected. Savor the Earth!
L. Hobart Stocking