Answering your questions on mental health, relationships and life issues

Dear Barb,

My family and chosen friends who gather for the holidays absolutely thrive on sparkling, diverse topical conversation. Political and religious viewpoints are the favorites. If we are going to talk about these things, everyone must be willing to listen to someone that has a different opinion. Is it so bad to discuss calmly about Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Syrian refugees, transgender bathroom rights, and the recent election results? How can it be done with no hurt feelings?


Seeking to Dine in Peace

Dear Seeking to Dine in Peace,

Stick to nonthreatening conversations like pop culture, sports and shared experiences such as the weather, the food, family matters or even the holidays themselves. Don’t take the bait when obviously at some point, one of your dinner partners may launch a unilateral political offensive. If you see the conversation starting to tip into potentially hazardous territory, don’t be afraid to take the wheel. Don’t feel like you have to engage. Remember, you’re the master of your own emotions. You’re never obligated to provide a counter argument or that you have to share what you think. Is it worth spoiling the evening’s honey baked ham halo just so you can give your belligerent cousin the what-for? No. Smile, knowing that you won’t change their mind in one single discussion. Try to guide the conversation back into safer subjects that may even include a humorous event or story. Laughter has been shown to trigger the brain. It has been hard to pin down exactly why laughing until it hurts feels so good. The physical act of laughing, the simple muscular exertions involved in producing the familiar ha, ha, ha, triggers an increase in endorphins, the brain chemicals known for their feel-good effect. So why not interject with a compliment about the food or a funny story about Black Friday, you’ll be giving other people an opportunity to chime in and get the conversation back on track. Your racist uncle will still be your racist uncle after your conversation, but that’s not the point. Often, when a friend or family member says something offensive or that we disagree with, we either challenge them right that second or shut down. We rarely take the opportunity to ask more questions and learn more about that person’s perspective that may show us why they think the things they do. This Thanksgiving, ask more questions to stay engaged and open to perspectives that, due to your unfamiliarity you may not hear on a regular basis, but exists in large numbers outside of your bubble. We could all learn from new information and should always be evolving our viewpoints, which thankfully is what we embrace as Americans. It’s okay to acknowledge a viewpoint that has merit, even when it goes against our personal understanding. Whatever your viewpoint, please resist the temptation to call another person’s opinion “fake news”! Just because it doesn’t match up with your beliefs doesn’t make it fake, it could make it more informational.

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor for the House of Matthew Homeward Bound program in Tacoma, and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at

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