28. About Your Family

Many progressive activists are brought to the edge of despair, and beyond, trying to convince their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives to embrace their values. But guess what? Nothing in any sales book I’ve ever read says that your family are automatically qualified just because they happen to be your family.

In fact, the opposite appears to be true: that your ideas are held in lower regard by the people who watched you grow up, and who in some cases diapered you, than by the general population. This doesn’t just apply to activists: many artists and intellectuals throughout history have also had to leave home to find an appreciative audience.

I was discussing this topic with a friend who is an observant Christian, and he commented, “Even Jesus had to leave Nazareth to preach!” And guess what? He’s right. Here’s the text, from Matthew 13:

And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?

Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas?

And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?

And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.

And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

That passage cracks me up. It also helps me to feel better about my own family’s occasional imperviousness to some of my own fabulous progressive wisdom. Hopefully, it will do the same for you.

If your family is resistant to your progressivism, my suggestion is not to sweat it. It’s not that they are dumb or that they don’t love you; it’s that they are not qualified customers. Give up on your efforts to sell to them, and try to influence them by joyful example, instead. I know, I know—it can be hard to watch loved ones embrace views or behave in ways that you find inappropriate or even unethical. But what’s your choice? You can’t force them to adopt your views. So follow the ancient wisdom of “live and let live,” and save your sales efforts for qualified customers who are more likely to be convinced.

Also be alert to the possibility that unresolved personal issues between you and your family are muddying your efforts to influence them. If you already have a contentious relationship with your family, don’t further complicate it by dragging your politics into the mix. Instead, take the initiative to work on repairing the relationships, and you may find that your family magically becomes more receptive to your values.

As discussed earlier in The Lifelong Activist, if your family is actively hostile to you, or undermines you, then separate yourself from them and interact with them as little as possible.

Spouse and Kids

I was mostly talking, above, about your birth family, but what if your created family—your spouse and kids—resist your progressive values? This is a much trickier situation. For those of you who aren’t yet partnered, I reiterate the crucial advice from Part II: choose your mate wisely, since that choice will likely be one of the key determinants of your success as an activist and as a human being.

If you are already partnered with someone who doesn’t support your progressive values and this situation is causing you pain, consult a therapist or other professional. If it’s not causing you pain, but is merely an annoyance, then you should probably treat it like all the other minor annoyances of couplehood and “live and let live.”

Kids are, in a way, simpler, since your responsibilities as a parent trump those as an activist. There is a natural tendency for kids raised by progressive parents to be progressive themselves, but if your kids don’t happen to agree with you, or go through a period of rebellion, your responsibility as a parent and a nurturant progressive is to respect their independence, individuality and self-determination. If you don’t try to bully them, but instead model for them the joyous progressive life, there’s a good chance they will eventually return “home” to your values. If not—well, rejoice in their independence, and base your relationship not on your differences but on your areas of commonality. Chances are, you’ll discover that your kids are not actually as far to the right as you feared.

Now, back to the sales process. . . .