A few of you have asked me about dealing with the consequences of a fascist government being re-elected in our country. Especially in the home, where we learn how to socialise. Family is the first level of socialisation as a human being. It is where we learn how to deal with the outside world. We learn how to sit, stand, behave. We learn to respond immediately when called.
We learn to obey.
The problem is when families assume that obedience applies to even the way we think. As our socialisation expands beyond the circle of family, we learn to interact with the outside world. Neighbours, friends, teachers, acquaintances, people we meet on the streets, and even media. We learn to interact and apply our sense of justice to each of these areas. The same rules don’t apply in every sphere.
And our parents soon forget that the more we interact with the outside world, the closer we get to cutting the umbilical cord that ties us to them.
So when our parents say that we have grown far too big for them, they’re right.
You see, in most cases, our parents are becoming parents for the first time with us. It’s almost as if we raise our parents. We have to teach them how to treat us with the kid gloves that they forgot to touch us with, instead of the heavy adult hands they chastise us with. We have to teach them that we’re not a part of them, but rather a choice they made. While this seems like the most practical (and almost heartless) take on parenting, it’s the truth.
This is where the tough bit comes in.
For most of us, parents are also our first brush with affection. Assuming that most of our parents actually show us the love they feel for us, that love becomes the love we seek for the rest of our lives — unconditional and altruistic. It’s also how (and this is more so the case with desi parents) they like to make us feel guilt for not turning out the way they expected us to.
The frustration with their expectations not being met causes more conflict than anything else.
Once you understand that, you will understand how to deal with them.
So, to answer your questions: What DO you do when your parents refuse to see beyond bigotry, hate, and xenophobia (among others)?
1. Your parents were probably never told they were allowed to explore outside their own bubble.
2. Most of us are actually told that there is strength in sameness despite what the moral science books say. They’re seeking like-mindedness.
3. They cannot tell the difference between empathy and sympathy. So, even when they are aware of atrocity and injustice, their reaction is to “save” or “pity” the oppressed instead of trying to understand their struggles. The latter is what WE have to learn to do.
4. When we approach them with a concept that they may be in conflict with, understand why THEY feel the way they do about it. Usually their reasons will be related to emotion or tradition. Emotion can be fought with logic (most of the time), so BRING THEM FACTS. The latter — tradition — is what brings me to the next point.
5. Our parents are tied to tradition by guilt and shame. Sometimes, regret. But once they understand that they will not be hurt by ignoring tradition that harms them and other people around them, they will soften. They will not change their minds but they will consider it.
So, talk to them. Speak up. Pick your battles and speak when you should. This is easier said than done. There are people outside of my parents in the family who assume that I am an uptight bitch with a lot of opinions because I have never shut up about mine. Even if I have stated them with tact.
The difference is that our families conveniently forget we are adults. We are adults when it comes to responsibility and getting work done. We are children when it comes to opinions and obedience. It really boils down to that.
But, here’s what a friend told me yesterday that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind and I think it applies here too:
Courage is contagious
When you speak up in your homes and bring home the points that you have been making for years over and over again, not just will your parents register some of it, but maybe some who are younger than you will also.
A few months back, an uncle of mine made a homophobic comment at my cousin’s wedding which I fought back with as much politeness as I could muster. While I was told off by my mother and told to “keep the peace” at the time, I realised that someday it will pay off. Even if not then.
A couple months after that, this uncle’s daughter asked me for help in dealing with a friend’s mental health because she assumed I could help her be empathetic in a situation like that.
The point is that when people around us see us exhibit empathy, they will seek out solutions that require more empathy too.
All of the above aside, it is an absolute bitter truth that we cannot choose our families. There will be days when you will just have to shut out the noise and bear every attack on common sense. But, fight the battles in your home before you step out to fix the world.
After all, your world begins at your doorstep.