Well, it's that most wonderful time of the year again!
I think in an ordinary year, there's plenty of stress to go around during the holiday season: Who's parents do we visit for Thanksgiving, and how do we keep the other ones from feeling jealous? Should I just bring my own organic food to the communal feast, or slight my own values to be part of the community vibe? How do we honor our environmental goals while still giving the kids a fun Christmas?
And those don't even start to get into feelings of tension around things like the actual history of "Thanksgiving", or the awkwardness of the "War on Christmas" that pagan liberals like me are perpetuating every day!
On top of that, it seems we're entering an even bigger COVID-19 spike than we've seen yet, and this might make holidays even trickier than before! I wanted to offer one communication hack that can change everything for you - streamlining awkward processes into one, easy-to-remember principle!
That simple hack is "complete avoidance of trips"
No, I don't mean avoid traveling (though that seems pretty dang prudent right now!) I mean the 70s and 80s jargon like "don't lay a trip on me, man!"
If you want the simplest way to cut to the heart of clarifying your communication challenges it is simply this: Don't lay trips on others, and don't let anyone lay a trip on you.
Another way to say this would be to stay away from "shoulds" - like, don't "should" all over your relationships.
Why might this be so powerful? Well, just think of how it feels when someone tells you how you should live. Or worse yet, how it feels when they tell you how you should feel! The thing is, "should" doesn't really exist - it's just a socially accepted way we have of emotionally manipulating each other.
Sometimes "should" is a short hand for our best guess. Like "you should wear a mask and wash your hands to prevent germ spreading." When people say this they're saying "my best guess for how to keep us safe is to follow these recommendations. But with "should," it comes across as a character judgement - and people respond accordingly.
It works the other way - with shouldn't. You "shouldn't live in fear and keep your kids from seeing their grandparents for the holidays." It's expressing the person's best guess 1) letting fear limit us has bad consequences, and 2) kids will suffer if they don't see the grandys. But it's laced with a hefty dose of "do it my way because I'm right and you're wrong."
Now, the epic trick here is that when people give you this right/wrong bait, you don't have to bite the hook. Because there's something about "should" that we need to know - it's actually a way we're all just trying to express our values.
When the person says you should wear a mask, they're offering the best strategy they know for creating safety, health, and cooperation. When the other person says you shouldn't live in fear or keep the kids home, they're offering their best strategies for creating more freedom, connection, and openness.
Here's the magical part - we (who have been taught this trick) can choose to relate via values, and disregard "shoulds" entirely! Now, this may not ensure that the other will understand you, it may not make them stop trying to lay trips on you, but it DOES instantly relieve you of any duty to continue fighting.
When we fight -in these ways that create so much tension- we're basically flinging "should" at each other. We're knuckling down on who's trip is the right one. But about most things in life, we don't know what's "right". We can find data about a lot of things, but no one knows for sure the exact outcome of any strategy - the best we can do is life from our values as fully as we can. When you do that, the feeling is much more of a calm sense of what you must do from your heart - rather than a struggle to make the other see your point, or to prove them wrong. Truth is we cannot make another see our point, we can only offer to share it with them.
While there is no guarantee that refusing to bite the hook of a right/wrong "should" battle will create harmony on the outside, it creates A LOT on the inside. Even more heartening is that it often does allow another to see your point of view, because you're not busy trying to make their perspective wrong.
If both of you are fully engaged in the testing ground all-or-nothing battle of "who's right?!" it's obviously going to be very hard for anyone to open their heart and listen. But what happens if one of you refuses not only to be manipulated, but also to manipulate? What if you play a different game entirely, of sharing your values as an offering from the heart, and listening through their "shoulds" as an offering from theirs?
I know when someone listens to me in this way I'm much more likely to open to them and hear where they're coming from. We may not end up buying each other's strategies or interpretations of the situation, but we don't have to leave the conflict with our hearts harder - sometimes the conflict can even deepen the connection between us!
The whole method comes down to the basic principle: refuse to lay trips on others, or to allow them to be lain upon you. We give up the sense that we can somehow make the other understand us, or that this is even important. We leave the cult of the mighty "should" and we come down to living from our values. When we do that, we recognize that most everyone is trying to do the same - just sometimes they do it in ways that hurts themselves and others. When we hold a bottom line of not manipulating our selves and others, we can be an potent pattern disruptor in this ongoing cycle of emotional re-injury.
So whatever you do for these unique holidays, have fun, come from your values, and listen to the values others are expressing. At the very least, you'll have wasted less time in conflict, and spent more of your life living from the heart - and at best, you might find your relationships become places of greater understanding and connection than ever seemed possible!
Good luck out there!
If you'd like to learn more hacks for this very unique moment in our lives, check out my free, two-talk series coming up Dec 1 and 8 called 'Biohacking the Apocalypse'! Here's the link to register if you're interested https://templestyle.mykajabi.com/offers/fG7BbPx6