I tell my 4-year-old grandson, who is playing with toy characters from the movie, "Moana", that I have to leave our video call so I can use the bathroom. He sometimes gets upset when I end our video chats. When I call him back, he seems shy and I ask, “Are you mad at me for leaving?” He says, “No, TeKa’ is mad”. He takes the TeKa’ doll, who is a lava monster, and makes a growling sound. Then he smiles and re-engages in playing.
I have been thinking about how we handle disruptions in families, small or, as in the next case, big. I listened to an interview of two adult women from different families who were estranged from their Q-Anon parents. In one family the parents always had paranoid extremist beliefs and Q-Anon created an organized system for them to follow. The second family started out more stable, but their conservative beliefs pulled them to be attracted to Q-Anon.
This fringe group has gained a large online presence. Those who began to follow their posts became like people in a cult, discouraged to read or trust any outside source, like “mainstream media”. Out of the mainstream, this small creek of Q-Anon turned into a rushing river as believers dove in and swam only in its waters. The constant “Q-Drops” of messages, starting in 2016, became like Chinese water torture. Continued drops on the brain of conspiracy theories got wilder and wilder, washing the brain of any sense of connection to reality. The believers spiritualize their hysteria by mixing their belief in God with white supremacist patriotism. They spread violent hatred and factually debunked conspiracy theories in the hijacked name of Jesus. One daughter said that her mother’s highest authority used to be the Bible (Old Testament), now it is QAnon. As with any cult, the members' sense of safety and community is identified solely with belonging to this group. This can cause friction in families.
One daughter tried to reason with her mother about facts and lies. This went nowhere. People get attached to their beliefs, and in some cases, it causes a permanent schism. What can be done? If you have an interest in maintaining some type of connection, then it is unwise to discuss doctrines. People feel threatened when you challenge their beliefs. What do all of us do when we feel threatened? We do one of four things: We fight (you are wrong, and I am right); we flee (let’s not talk about that); we freeze (uh… (can’t talk, listen or learn)); or we fawn (switch to surface level engagement).
What strategy works best to re-engage and keep some kind of relationship in a family with such diverse beliefs? The first thing to do is to stay away from trying to convince each other that your view is correct, as these disparate views will never match. You are swimming in different rivers that will never converge. The second thing is to focus on what you have in common. Here is where fleeing and fawning might work. You can flee when the subject of politics or religion arises. When these topics come up and you feel the heat, move away. That way if you get too close to the flame of confrontation, you can avoid getting burned. If you fawn by talking about light things, like what’s for dinner, you can both calm down. Once there is some back and forth rapport, people may soften, open their hearts and there may be some restoration of good feeling, at least for some time. Let’s take the lava monster TeKa’. After her heart was stolen by Maui, she got angry and spewed fire and magma over the land. In the movie, the young Moana approaches TeKa' bravely and with compassion, and tenderly restores her heart. The lava monster transforms into a green nature Goddess of the land.
It is only when we reach from and receive from a place of love that there may be some patches of healing in this scorched land. After I got growled at by TeKa’ I could see that my grandson was transformed and willing to give me another chance.