Family. You can pick your friends, you can pick your zits, and if you’re really, really good friends, you can pick your friends’ zits. (Why you’d want to is beyond my understanding, but hey, we can agree to disagree.)
But family? Family you don’t pick. Family you’re stuck with. Sort of like that dubious photo of you and you college buddies swilling down ill-advised beverages in ill-advised quantities at ill-advised hours that your Facebook friend posted and refuses to take down.
I love ’em, bless their hearts, but without my family, I don’t know where I could go to hear three nonstop hours of Things That Make Me CrazyTM over dinner.
Suffice it to say, my family and I have an infinite number of what I now know (after Leader Effectiveness Training) to be…values collisions.
- I’m a liberal, bleeding-heart, tree-hugging, live-and-let-live, tax-and-spend, ACLU-card-holding fiscal and social liberal. Stepdad and Uncle and even Mom when she gets into a mood? Not so much.
- I find politically incorrect “humor” offensive. A couple of my relatives? I suspect that without racist jokes, they’d lose their entire social banter repertoire.
- On standard Jungian personality tests like the Myers-Briggs, I’m an extreme Perceiver. My family? Hardcore Judgers (yes, Every Last One Of Them). This means, essentially, that if my mind were any more open (to possibilities, variation, differences, options, uncertainty, etc.), my brain would probably fall out of my head. If theirs were any more closed–er, excuse me, certain–you could probably successfully preserve Egyptian mummies in their brain cavities.
- I’m a grasshopper, content to live every day as if it’s probably my last, spending far more of my paycheck than I save, because who knows? I may not live to see retirement. They’re ants, carefully planning for retirement, shepherding innumerable complex investments that make my head hurt, deferring pleasure now for the possibility of pleasure later.
- If I see a pair of boots that are cute and flattering at an off-price store, I buy them. Heaven forbid I be out shopping with Grandma, though, who saves things like brand-new-still-in-the-package bedsheets and tablecloths (from 1972) “for good,” and who is still wearing double-knit polyester wing-collared apple-green shirts (from 1972). When Grandma sees me buying something, you can bet your last cent (tax-sheltered and wisely invested, of course) that I’m about to enter a conversation that starts with, “De-NISE! Why are you spending your money!? You’ve got PLENTY of clothes/shoes/plates/spoons already!”
- I’m a slob. There. I said it. They’re neat and organized and tidy.
That’s just a representative sample of our fundamental differences. I swear, sometimes when I was growing up, knowing that I was adopted was the only thing that prevented me from thinking I’d dropped out of the sky from an alien ship and into the bassinet.
The first time I brought My Guy to Mom’s for dinner was and especially colorful night, conversation-wise. “Hey, I heard this thing on NPR the other day,” said Stepdad, who went on to describe a story about Vietnamese immigrants who required translators for a complex legal agreement they were making with the government…or something like that.
I’m a bit hazy on the details, because in a split second, the rest of the table was engaged in animated Holding Forth about how people who come to this country should learn to speak ******ned English and try to fit in, and they’re all on welfare, and our tax dollars…and…well.
This conversation (and others like it) has happened over. And over. And over again.
I’m 42 years old. You’d think after that many years of futilely trying to convince them to reconsider their politics, I’d have known better. (You’d also think that after that many years of me telling them I disagree with them, they’d avoid topics they know PUSH MY BUTTONS, but.)
For some reason (OK, actually, I was horrified that this was My Guy’s first introduction to my family, and that they’d picked that particular night to go Full Archie Bunker), try I did.
I pointed out that Mom and Uncle’s own grandfather came to this country speaking Italian and in his 104 years of life, never did manage to pick up more than a half-functional, heavily accented smattering of English. That their own ethnic background would have earned them scorn from “real Americans” eighty years ago. That the first generation of any immigrant group never assimilates fully, but the second generation generally does. And on. And on.
Short story? Conversation Fail.
Afterwards, when my Guy and I were driving home, he essentially asked me why I’d engaged, when it was clear from the outset that none of us were going to change our minds.
And you know what?
He was right.
Values Collisions, by very definition (which I learned in leadership training), are communication train-wrecks just waiting to happen. They’re irreconcilable differences in world-views. And while strongly held, clashing opinions and beliefs about the nature of reality have no actual tangible effect on the disagreeing parties, they’re usually not subject to change.
Does my family’s (cough…Neanderthal) dinner conversation really affect me in any real way? No. It may make me feel disappointed or frustrated, but those feelings are my problem to own and deal with. Does my (Hippie) worldview actively affect them? No. So what if they think I’m laughably naive and “out of touch”? Do these differences affect our behavior toward one another? Do we hurl food at each other during election season?
No. We’re family. We’re stuck with each other. We’ll just have to keep on agreeing to disagree.
My Guy was right. I should have stayed out of those conversational waters, because there was nothing to gain by going there.
For future, I’m practicing the art of rapidly changing the subject. “Hey, has anybody seen Inception yet? What was that all about?” “My, these green beans are delicious, Mom. What’s in them? Is that nutmeg I taste?” “Hey, Stepdad, tasted any good wines lately?”
Values collisions. Just one of the joys of being a part of my big, raucous, noisy, opinionated Italian family.