Gordon C. Nagayama Hall, Ph.D.

Life in the Intersection

Navigating the Holidays

People planning can reduce stress.

Posted Nov 21, 2017

Source: schaeffler/Pixabay

A key to having a good holiday experience with family and friends is planning. We plan our travel, where we will stay, and what we will eat. But we don’t always plan for the people we will be with.

It is important to consider who we will be with. Research suggests that there are three groups of people who may agree or disagree with our social and political beliefs. One group is dissenters, who strongly disagree with our beliefs. A second larger group is passive supporters, who don’t disagree with us but haven’t taken action. A third group is active supporters, who strongly agree with us.

Determine who the dissenters, passive supporters, and active supporters are among your family and friends. You will find common ground with active supporters and passive supporters. Spend time with them. You may be able to find some common ground with dissenters. It might be reminiscing about a family event, or sports, or hobbies. But quit while you’re ahead. It’s often just a matter of time until a more volatile topic arises.

But what if arguments seem unavoidable?

  • Choose your battles wisely. Passive supporters are more likely to listen to you than dissenters. You’re unlikely to get far with dissenters. Unless a dissenter makes some public remark that can’t go unchallenged (e.g., racist, sexist, homophobic), don’t pick a fight with them. And don’t get baited into unnecessary arguments.
  • Try a team effort. Talk to other supportive family members before the holidays. Plan for how you will handle the dissenters.
  • Take the focus off yourselves. Plan a family public service event. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Or a children’s hospital. Help the hurricane victims. If the dissenters don’t want to participate, it’s ok. You can spend time away from them and with family members who share your social justice passion.

There may be a few dissenters who are “beyond help.” But there is a much larger group of passive supporters who can become allies. These might include younger family members. Or family members who have been shunned by the dissenters for some reason.

Dissenters are unlikely to be persuaded by arguments. But seeing that you are a kind person who cares about others, including them, may soften them a bit. Actions may speak louder than words.


Hall, G. C. N., Martinez, C. R., Jr., Tuan, M., McMahon, T. R., & Chain, J. (2011). Toward ethnocultural diversification of higher education. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 17, 243-251. doi: 10.1037/a0024036