For families deep divided, a summer of heated words begins
Kristia Leyendecker has lived through a lot since 2016. She has navigated a range of political views from her two siblings and others. She has also had to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, chaos in the 2020 presidential election, and more conflict over masks, vaccines, and social distancing.
But she stayed strong to keep relationships intact. Now, she is dealing with the effects of the deadly freeze in the Dallas area, where she lives with her husband and three of their four children. Her daughter, who is transgender, started transitioning, and her brother and sister cut off contact with them. Her mother was caught in the crossfire.
“It’s like a divorce,” he said. “You think you’re going to get back together again, but then you realize that you’re not. You just keep moving forward.”
For families divided along with the red house and blue house lines, summer‘s slate of reunions and trips poses another exhausting round of tension. Pandemic restrictions have lifted but gun control, the battle for reproductive rights, the January 6 insurrection hearings, who’s to blame for rising inflation, and a range of issues still simmer.
Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers, hosts of the popular Pantsuit politics podcast, have been hosting intimate discussions with listeners about family, friends, church, community, workplace, and partners as they’ve released their second book, “Now What?” How to move forward when we’re divided about basically everything.
Hicks grew up in Odessa, the center of the oil boom in West Texas. Her family is large and conservative, and she’s the oldest child. She moved to Austin for college and found herself at odds with her conservative upbringing. After law school, she moved to Berkeley, California, and found herself in a liberal bubble.
She’s been living in Houston since 2005 and finds herself caught in the middle of two very different worlds. Friction between friends and family members online has become more pronounced because of the distance afforded by the internet.
Hicks’ family interactions can often be tense, but they remain civil. Her husband owns guns, and she doesn’t. She has relatives who own guns, and she doesn’t. She has a brother who lives next door, and they don’t see each other very often. When they do, they get along fine. But when they don’t, they don’t speak to each other. There’s nothing wrong with that.
In the humility camp, he’s not alone. Thomas Plaque, who teaches psychology at Cal State Santa Clara, a liberal Jesuit college, also advocates for humility. He believes that humility is a key ingredient to creating a more inclusive society. “Humility is about recognizing that you’re not always going to get your own way,” he says. “You might think you’re right, but there’s another side.”
“It’s important to keep your cool when you’re talking to someone else,” says Carla Bevins. She teaches courses on interpersonal communication, etiquette, and conflict management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper school of business. “If you get angry, you’ll never resolve anything. You’ll just create more tension.”
Having a heated discussion during a picnic or over a barbeque isn’t going t change anyone’s mind. It only creates tensions and hurts feelings as a rule. “You need to listen carefully,” says Bevins. “Don’t interrupt. Don’t talk over them. If you’re feeling frustrated, try to slow down. Take a breath.” “People will tell you that you should be able to handle any situation,” says Bevin. “But if you’re tired, you won’t be able to.”