Originally posted on Feministing.com
By: Elizabeth Greenblatt, MPH, Capacity Building Coordinator, Sea Change Program
The holidays can be a joyous time where family and friends gather to share a meal together and connect. The holidays can also be a very stressful time, especially if the people you care deeply about don’t support the issues important to you, or support you working in them. Working in the reproductive health, rights, and justice field comes with numerous challenges, one of which is relating and sharing with those around you with opposing viewpoints. A holiday gathering such as Thanksgiving may feel daunting, with the possibility that you may feel shamed and miserable by the end of it. However, gathering with family can be an opportunity to share the reasons behind the work you do. Many people dread these moments, but they are real possibilities for connection. Sharing your personal experiences about why this work matters to you with folks who may not otherwise have the opportunity to listen, could cause them to open themselves up and shift their understanding. After all, culture change often needs to start at kitchen tables before it can reach Congress.
Earlier this year, my colleague Kate shared 5 ways that people can be resilient to abortion stigma: remembering our purpose, remembering our privilege, connecting with others, listening openly, and being prepared to share the “why” of your work. Adding to this list, connecting to our gratitude for our work can help us have clarity for each of these 5 things. Often when people think about their work, they focus on what’s challenging and stressful. Thinking about gratitude can remind us why we do this work in the first place. Our gratitude can help us connect to our “why” and tell our story.
So this year, consider asking your family to spend some time before (or after) the meal checking in. Here’s how that might look:
- Everyone shares one significant thing happening in their life that they are thankful for.
- While each person shares, the only job of the others at the table is to listen.
- Explain what listening means: ask people to listen with curiosity and compassion, and to try to clear their minds of their own comments. Request that there be no comments, side talking, texting, or non-verbal reactions made during each person’s gratitude share.
- Once everyone has shared, raise your glasses, toast if you wish, and dig into your meals!
You may not feel like sharing gratitude about your work. You may feel tired, overworked, overwhelmed, and you may likely be in a room of folks who strongly believe that what you do for a living is wrong. But remember, this is an opportunity for you to share the personal reasons you work in the reproductive health, rights, and justice field. That means this is not a political debate; you’re not sharing talking points, you’re sharing your personal gratitude for your work.
Here’s an example of what I might share this year. I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn about some of my past mistakes in sex education. When I used to work in sex education, I bought into the belief that being a young parent could never be positive. After working with young parents over the past year, I’ve learned just how hard they fight every day to take care of their children and live in a world that constantly reminds them they aren’t supposed to exist. Sex education often presents teen pregnancy as a negative outcome that must be avoided at all costs for a successful life. Framing teen pregnancy as a failure doesn’t allow young families to feel included in learning about their sexuality and sexual health. I’m grateful that I have an opportunity to work towards a future that honors and supports young people and young parents to own their sexuality. And I’m so grateful to the young parents I worked with for their honesty, courage, and willingness to share their experiences.
This is how culture change happens: we open ourselves to listening, we drop our assumptions and judgments, and we allow our hearts and minds to shift. So please, join us in sharing your gratitude for your work this Thanksgiving. And let us know what happens!
To learn more about the Sea Change Program and how storytelling can inspire dialogue, and shift beliefs in favor of a world where everyone can live with dignity and in good health throughout their sexual and reproductive lives, visit http://seachangeprogram.org.