In the 1954 movie “Attack on Tokyo,” Godzilla, an enraged prehistoric creature, is on a rampage to annihilate everything in his path. He has been awakened, jarred from his slumber deep underground and morphed into a terrifying modern colossal due to H-bomb testing and the aftermath of radioactive material.
Godzilla crushes people, villages, and takes out ships – all while the scientists, military, and government officials struggle to figure out how to stop him. Kind of sounds pandemic-like doesn’t it? All efforts fail, and the monster becomes more enraged, and more of a problem.
A lot of people die. But the mayhem of the film seems quaint by today’s standards. The cinematographic technology of the time involved an actor dressed in a rubber monster suit, literally chewing the cardboard scenery of the miniature props on a set.
It makes for a campy look. And as disaster films go, I even thought it was cheesy entertainment when I saw it as a kid in the 1960s. But these days I can’t watch any films about end-of-the-world catastrophe, not even corny ones. The potential of an apocalypse seems all too real now.
And that 21st century Godzilla monolith isn’t lurking under the ocean. He/she/they/it is making appearances everywhere in our communities, in our society, our schools and politics, both local and national; and even just as deadly – at family gatherings.
These days, it can be your Uncle John, Aunt Mary, dear old Grandpa, or even you, who comes loaded for bear ready to talk political and religious grievances.
I’m ashamed to admit I’ve been Godzilla on (ahem) a few occasions as well. It was not productive, it was not satisfying. Nobody wins when Godzilla comes to the surface.
Tame and Redirect Godzilla
Where do all these Godzilla issues in our lives lead us? If we run amuck over family, is there any hope we can be civil and sane in the larger family of communities and humanity?
The question, and my own personal pain of feeling scaly, led me to reach out to Elena Greenberg. In this interview of The Delicious Story Elena walks us through 5 methods to keep peace on track at your family gatherings.
You can check out the vidcast or podcast and post by heading to Storied Gifts and the blog “5 Tips to Keep the Peace During Family Gatherings.” Elena shares loads of good stories and insights, plus she has a poignant memorable meal story, too. I share the tips here:
#1: Nobody is going to change their minds (at least not during dinner). You aren’t going to bring Uncle John around to your way of thinking with some doozy of a fact. Knowing that you simply won’t alter anyone’s opinion can actually be a relief. We don’t need to unleash any Godzilla smoke and fire at a family event, because we can know that it’s going to be wasted energy.
Elena offers up four other excellent ideas to keep the family gathering on a peaceful and pleasant course. As we chatted, I could feel my Godzilla propensities retreating for the depths of the ocean.
#2: Stick to doing things together you enjoy. It’s so easy to get lost in the weeds of subjects where we disagree, so find the things you can appreciate together. We can laugh and find common ground with shared activities such as games. Laugh and relax together and see each other’s shared humanity.
#3: Set boundaries for holiday discussions. Table difficult conversations for a designated time. Agree as a unit that thorny topics won’t be discussed during family time. This doesn’t mean you can’t talk about meaty things, but agree on a specific time outside of the main event. And set ground rules, such as listening first, not interrupting, no blaming or name calling, etc.
#4: Determine why you come together with family and what you hope to accomplish. These are the people with whom you have a shared history and relationship. Who do you want to be in this experience? Who are these people to you in the big picture? Remind yourself that each of you is more than the opinions you possess.
#5: Be curious. A genuine interest in why and what makes others tick is the starting point for deeper understanding. If we begin with objectivity, listen, and clarify ideas first, we can tamp down the tendency to let our personal bias hijack conversation. Be a researcher. Ask “why do you think that way?” Tell me more. What experiences do you have that lead you to believe as you do?” Repeat back what you hear. Everyone wants to be heard. Simply affirming what the other person is saying can deescalate emotions.
As I chatted with Elena, I could feel my Godzilla retreating ever so slightly. We want changes now and generally we prefer that others do the changing first. However, for real growth to occur, we must change ourselves, which is all we control anyway.
By understanding your motivations and why you gather with others in the first place, you can take an objective step back from the abyss of fighting only for the sake of winning. Give peace a chance, especially with your family, and you’ll feel better and more hopeful overall.
As I reflect on strongly held opinions, I'm reminded that while we can't change the details of the past, there is always an opportunity to write our future. Our Easter Island-inspired t-shirt seems like a good reminder.