Radical Kindness, Holiday Style

It’s November and Thanksgiving and other holiday gatherings are fast approaching.  In my next several newsletters, I will deal with the issue of what to do when you know you need to do something, but you do not know what to do.  In other words, I will be writing about Radical Kindness Warrior training.

I mentioned the book I am writing to my Zumba Toning trainer yesterday , and she told me a story.  Everyone seems to have a story when I bring up this topic. Here is her story:

When she was two her family gathered for Thanksgiving.  Her Uncle Ted, as I will call him, proceeded to drink too much and then sent himself on a mission to attack everyone individually. When he commented on her mother’s handmade dress, Jane, as I will call my trainer, had had enough.

“Shup up and eat your turkey!” she commanded, and the family exploded in riotous laughter.  Little two year old Jane had said what everyone else wanted to say but didn’t know how.

I would add that one turkey at the table is enough.

Here is an excerpt from my book Radical Kindness Tips for the Well-Intentioned But Ill-Prepared . Well, I’m still working on the title, but you see what I’m getting at. As always, I would love to know what you think.

Radical Kindness Tip #3: 

Knock Something Over

You are at Thanksgiving dinner and Uncle Ted is about to launch into a racist joke.  You can see that Aunt Minnie is waiting for an opening to comment on your thighs, as she usually does. What are you to do?  You do not want to shame anyone or create a scene, yet you absolutely cannot allow racist jokes to be told in front of you and in front of the children.

What can you do?  The answer: once again, is distraction, distraction, distraction.

You know you need to shift the energy, move the focus.  You need to do something, anything, to break into the telling of the racist joke and the compliant listening to the joke. To get away with it, you have to look innocent.   You are “accidentally” knocking a chair over, dropping a book on the floor, dumping the contents of your purse on the ground.

“Oh, my!” you cry. “How clumsy of me!  Shelly, would you help me pick this mess up?”  Make a fuss.  “Does anyone see my lipstick?”  Have fun.

Perhaps you can talk with Uncle Ted later in private.  “Uncle Ted, dear, I know you mean no harm.  You need to stop telling racist jokes. They aren’t funny. They are cruel.  They perpetuate hate and the world has enough hate.  Next time you start to tell a racist joke, I will leave with my family.  We’ll drive home and that will be the end of this Thanksgiving dinner for us.”

Okay, so you probably are not going to be able to say all of this to Uncle Ted in one sitting.  But you can move toward this. At some point you need to take a stand against racism, homophobia, sexism, and cruelty of all kinds.

Until you are ready to take it on, head on, knock something over.

Other ideas:

Pretend you lost a contact.  “Oh, no!” you cry.  “My contact fell out!”  You drop on all fours to the ground and begin looking.  “Could you please help me?  I just bought these!”

Have fun with this one.  Start patting the feet of the people you are trying to distract.  You do not need to wear contacts to use this ploy, but if you are wearing glasses, it will probably not work.  Or maybe it will work perfectly.  You will have made your point.  Remember to smile.

Note: Your intervention has to look like an accident, otherwise you may get confronted, and a confrontation is the last thing you want.

Practice looking innocent in the mirror.  You can do it.  You did it for years when you were a kid.  If you have children, ask them to practice with you.  This could be a great family bonding moment.  You might even share with them why you are practicing looking like butter would not melt in your mouth.

Never, never, never make the situation worse.

Always, always, always do something to stop cruelty


Dear Vicki,

You know I value your coaching. I thank you for inviting me, and all of your readers, to share our thoughts. I’m grateful for your courage and your heartfelt openness.

I know your method will work well for some people, yet for me, I am ready to take this situation head-on as you say. I intend to speak up for my values and beliefs without pretense. I know many people aren’t ready for that step. Some fear feeling vulnerable, and many fear the potential conflict.

I know the value of interrupting Uncle Ted with a loud noise. This is perfect. When he turns my way, I want to be transparent. I would say this, “Uncle Ted, I’m glad you stopped talking. If you must tell that joke, give me a moment to leave the room, and maybe some others will go with me. I don’t want to hear a (racist, sexist, etc.) joke. I think jokes like this are not funny and they are cruel.” Uncle Ted may decide to ridicule me in front of the family. I will not react.

Without asking him, Uncle Ted must now decide if telling a (so judged) cruel joke serves his purpose. If Uncle Ted claims he means no harm, I won’t argue or shame him, but I will leave the room, and if I have minor children, I will tell them to come with me. In another room, I would explain to my children (or others) why I feel uncomfortable hearing racist, homophobic, sexist, handicapped, etc. jokes. Yes, this is the head-on way to take a stand.

In a private follow-up with Uncle Ted, I would not threaten to leave the gathering. I would clearly request that he stop telling jokes of this type in front of me (or my children). I would ask him to give me the time to leave the room when he wants to tell racist, homophobic, sexist, handicapped, etc. jokes. I will assure him that I will interrupt every time if he forgets my request.

I realize that I have experience taking a stand for my values in this social situation unlike encountering the bully at the check-out counter. In this situation, (my brain and) I stay present, I don’t feel afraid, and I avoid creating conflict. I used my process to stop a peer from making offensive comments about “Jerry’s kids” in my presence. He claimed he meant no harm, but he stopped making comments about “Jerry’s kids” in front of me and others at work.

Thank you, Vicki, for hearing my thoughts on this topic. I intend to be as transparent as possible when taking a stand in this situation. I understand the purpose of being an actor in a situation when fear or anger stops my brain from working. Having a “script” ready, I may still take meaningful action. And, acting is much more playful.

With love,
J. G.