Winning Family

Of all of the people you may try to persuade, family constitutes the biggest challenge.

Even Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” [Mark 6:4]

When he was pursued by mobs of people eager to experience his miracles, and to listen to his world-rocking teaching, his own brothers got snarky with him. In effect, they said, “If you’re such hot stuff, why don’t you take your show on the road to Jerusalem where the real religious leaders are?” His mother and his brothers even tried to get him to stop what he was doing, and take him away from the crowd.

I mention this because if the Son of God couldn’t “get no respect” from his family, what makes me think things will go better with mine?

Cancel Thanksgiving!

A close friend of mine once told me that he cancelled plans to visit his daughter and son-in-law for Thanksgiving because he was so angry about their political views. 

I wish this problem were rare. It’s not. 

Across the country, families get torn apart because of arguments over all kinds of things —  but perhaps most tragically, they’re divided over politics. So, let me start this section of WinSome with the advice that I gave my friend: “Go have dinner with your daughter, and shut your mouth about politics. She’s your daughter.”

That may sound a bit extreme, and some may read it as me capitulating to “the other side.” 

But if this nation ever hopes to enjoy truly civil dialogue and a functioning republic, we’re going to have to get some perspective on what’s really important in life. 

It’s particularly ironic to hear conservatives proclaim “family values,” but then to allow their family to be torn apart with political debates. It’s no less ironic to hear liberals/progressives expound upon the virtues of tolerance, while they shun their loved ones because of a difference of opinion about governance. 

I’ll bluntly say this…

If you can’t conduct a loving dialogue with your brother, sister, Mom, Dad, children, grandparents, or other relatives, then drop it. Leave politics alone when you’re with them. Talk about something they love, and ask questions to draw out their enthusiasm about the best things in their lives. 

While this may seem like avoidance, it’s based on two premises:

  1. I’d rather have a brother, than an opinion, and
  2. avoiding politics and other hot-button topics may actually be the best strategy for eventually persuading them. 

The latter seems counterintuitive, but is totally consistent with the WinSome strategy.

Affection and respect set the stage for earning a hearing. Just because someone is related to you, doesn’t mean you don’t have to lay the groundwork of building a relationship and listening to learn. It’s perhaps more important at home because it’s more difficult

Our familiarity with our close relatives tends to foster greater disrespect toward them than we manifest toward even random strangers. Civility dies at the homestead doorstep. Changing our hearts and minds along WinSome lines will not only increase our chances of actually connecting with, and perhaps persuading, our loved ones, but will also foster a more loving, respectful family life. I’ll take the latter in lieu of the former every time if that’s the best I can do. 

Losing My Pop

I shudder when I think of the rudeness that I displayed toward my Pop — the man who adopted me and my brothers, and who surrendered his own dreams to raise four boys who were not his own sons.

Pop was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, and I — at the time — was politically far left of center. I would come home from college, as he would say, “full of piss and vinegar” about how right I was about almost any subject, and proceed to pick a fight with him. Voices would escalate and regrettable insults would fly until one of us stormed from the room, or fell silent out of respect for Nan. She, wisely, never engaged in political debate. I didn’t know which party she supported, or what she thought about most issues.

I did know, however, that Nan loved me and my brothers. 

When young Scott Ott spouted off about his newfound views, Nan would listen. She’d ask questions in a tone that betrayed nothing but actual interest in the subject, with no hint of her opinion of it. She never disagreed, but sought merely to understand what it was I was trying to say.

I learned from both Nan and Pop.

To his credit, even after a vigorous debate, I never left without thinking that my Pop loved me, and wanted the best in life for me…even if he was politically naive. (That’s a joke.)

Only with the benefit of hindsight, a bit of maturity (and a lot of Jesus), have I come to regret how I spoke to Pop, and come to understand the benefit of how Nan engaged me.

So, to start winning family, focus first on loving family.

That’s the incremental goal which is its own reward. If that crazy uncle of yours never comes around to your point of view, and yet you share with him some common interests, fascinating conversation, smiles, laughter, or even mutual tears — that’s a win.

It’s a big win.

If you start there, then the rest of the WinSome strategy flows from that healthy, loving, respectful relationship.

If you don’t do that, understand that the regret of a ruptured relationship will haunt you after their death. Act now to shower them with love and respect, while you still have time.

Once an unshakeable foundation of love and respect stands firm, you may find opportunity to discuss “big issues.” And the WinSome approach will suffuse your discussions. 

My Own Daughter

My eldest daughter, Grace, is a master at this. She and I are not always on the same page politically, but we have enjoyed many long phone conversations during which we discussed the news of the day, and broad political and social issues. Grace never loses her grip on our relationship, and I never feel anything but love and respect from her, or for her.

Do we disagree?

Yes, often vigorously.

But our dialogue is seasoned with humor, and even joy, as we each invite the other to consider alternative views to our own. All of this is done without vitriol or mockery. It’s not for nothing that she’s named Grace. Her approach to dialogue is redolent of it. Because our conversations build on a foundation of love and respect, I feel that I hear the other side’s views from her better than from the talking heads and politicians on YouTube and podcasts. 

Above all, Grace is my daughter, whom I love and admire. No political opinion of mine or of hers can jeopardize that. Over time, I think we’ve helped to shape each others’ views — perhaps merely by discovering better, more gracious, ways of expressing ourselves. 

Ultimately, “Winning Family” is not about winning debates. There’s precious little winning among the debating class anyway. It’s about building a winning family — a family where diverse views get heard, people show and receive respect, and love permeates everything. The Bible says “love conquers all.” That doesn’t mean that love is a tool to beat your enemies, but rather that our flawed natures can survive contact with one another only if we value each other more than we treasure our own ideas and desires. By so doing, we value the one who created, and who loves, us all.

If I told you that you could win every in-house debate with family members from now until the day you die, would you take that option? Or would you prefer to live the coming days surrounded by people who love you, and whom you love, regardless of personal flaws or political views. I’ll take the latter every time. I think you will too. (If not, it may be time for some more introspection about your long-term priorities.)

One footnote: If you approach family members in the WinSome way, you may find they drift into your ideological camp from time-to-time — or at least stop by for a visit. That’s great, but there will be a temptation to crow about it — to gently rub their noses in their previously-precious ideas, and to announce your victory. 

Don’t do it.

Your invitation to adopt your views is an invitation to pursue happiness without losing face. Never remind her of the way she used to be. Let her live, without shame, in the freedom she’s come to embrace.