Hawthorn: Reflections

A periodic blog on topics that help prepare wealth for families and families for wealth.

December 2020

Healing Holidays

Where differences in values, priorities, and dreams exist between and among families, generations, friends or colleagues, our best hope is to embrace them.

By: Joline Godfrey, CEO, The Unexpected Table, Author of "Raising Financially Fit Kids"

This last year has been a challenge for friends and families. Between actual physical separations (staying away from immune compromised family members, practicing social distance with friends); out of sync social values; political divisions (you think WHAT??) and garden variety, “Mom loved you more than me” resentments, maintaining positive ties has been a challenge.

For months I’ve worried about the cost of the divisions, assumptions, name calling, and smug jokes floating through the ether, over the internet, and into our psyches.

While most solid relationships are pretty elastic and able to withstand the buffeting winds of disagreements and differing points of view, the last year rained hurt on relationships with unusual strength and persistence.

So as the holidays unfold my thoughts have turned to considering how we repair relationships and heal emotional wounds absorbed in the last year.  In the spirit of turning the page on a new year—and setting a new tone for coming years— I offer these strategies:

  • Practice radical respect. I work with a craftsman I’ll call Sam. Sam drives up to my house in a vehicle with signs that make my eyes cross. But he’s a talented carpenter—and he knows I respect his work, recommend him to friends, and write him great reviews on Yelp. The power of his talent has been a door into his being. However different the two of us are, we recognize a powerful work ethic in one another and share a value for excellence. Our common ground is sacred enough that we give each other room for our differences.

    That mutual respect did not come easily or quickly. I held my tongue often (I needed his talent) and suspect he did the same (he needed the work). Our overlapping needs forced us to reckon with each other. He’s now an actual friend and we continue to learn from one another. Where mutual need is a driver, radical respect can drive new insights into people who feel “other” but who, it turns out, are just other human beings.

But when compelling need is not a driver to motivate respect, a different strategy for healing may be required.

  • Take the high road. High road travelers literally see through a different window and thus have the greatest potential for transforming relationships and communities. Viewing that annoying sister-in-law through a lens of compassion instead can reveal anxiety and fear hovering just under whatever issues drive you most crazy. Once recognized, it’s easier to speak more kindly, listen more carefully, elicit new patterns of how we relate, and heal old wounds.

    High road travelers are change agents. They have the greatest opportunities to shift culture, model new behaviors, and disrupt repetitive habits of communication. It’s an important lesson to teach kids and practice in the family circle. It’s also a strategy that has the most potential for healing old wounds.

And sometimes taking the high road requires action…

  • Reach Out. Imagination can be a terrible impediment to healing. We project, imagine (or assume) thoughts and ideas in others that may be at odds with reality. Instead, try taking a risk and disrupting whatever assumptions may be entrenching chilly relationships. If there’s someone you’ve been avoiding or had harsh words with make the holidays a bridge. Send a note, a card, a text; make a call, send flowers, use any vehicle to say, “I miss you, let’s catch up.” Social distancing means that for now, we’re less likely to ‘run into’ one another or connect in informal settings. Being proactive and reaching out is an investment in friends and family that pays dividends for years, even when we seem divided by values, points of view, or words spoken in the heat of a moment.

    I have a dear friend with whom I have a tacit agreement to avoid certain subjects. Most of the time we’re adept at respectful avoidance. We can find plenty of rich substance in the parts of our lives that are very much in sync. But every now and then a sudden tension reminds us we’ve veered into territory better left at a respectful distance, and then it may take a few weeks or months to reconnect. And yet, we do. We both know there’s more to life and friendship than unanimity of vision and values. Eventually one of us makes an invitation, sends a note, updates with news. Reaching out across what sometimes seems like big divides has kept our friendship intact for over 25 years.

And for any of these strategies, another tactic is this…

  • Ask, don’t explain. It’s common to have an intense conviction that, “if I can just explain clearly enough, Matty or Mark will understand the wisdom of my point of view.”  And so we attempt, with sincere effort—often at great length, to explain our position and illuminate the flaws in theirs.  But this approach can come across as immensely annoying and can actually undermine the possibility of making a meaningful connection. Questions, on the other hand, are doors. They open possibility.

    Questions that take us to high ground, show radical respect and provide opportunities for reaching across divides are those posed with openness and empathy. Genuinely curious people use the open-ended question (and then really listen) to bring forth new data and get a fresh take without implying judgement. For example:
    • What might that look like?
    • What experiences helped shape your thinking?
    • Where would you like to see this lead in 50 years? (It turns out that most of us can agree on a vision that far out—it’s the nearer term visions that trip us up.)
    • What do you think influenced your thinking in this regard?

Diversity and The Power of the Third Way. Ultimately, it’s the diverse points of view and ideas among siblings, generations, friends, or colleagues that help us grow, learn, evolve, and connect.

Where differences in values, priorities, and dreams exist between and among families, generations, friends or colleagues, our best hope is to embrace them.

Our opportunity in this new season is to build a big enough tent that our big, messy, human collection of family and friends can live within—squabbling, disagreeing on some things, finding common ground on others, and “third way solutions” (not my way or your way but creative new ways) to reinvent and co-create the future.

More to come,


About Joline

Joline Godfrey is CEO, The Unexpected Table, and author of "Raising Financially Fit Kids". She is part of the Hawthorn Institute for Family Success℠, which is dedicated to preparing families for their wealth. In this capacity, Joline develops and delivers a series of products and services for nurturing financially mindful children and thriving families.

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