I’m a conservative in a family of liberals/leftists, all of whom have gone along willingly with their party’s slide into authoritarianism justified by Trump (and conservative) hatred.
I used to be an even more rabid leftist in my youth, but marrying a Russian Orthodox wife and joining her community here in San Francisco, and now having embraced faith with the help of Dennis Prager and Jordan Peterson, I’ve become a conservative.
I try not to discuss politics with my family, but as they say, politics is downstream from culture. I find I have nothing in common with them, and they barely hide their contempt for my worldview.
For example, my two sons and I decided to visit my parents as a holiday surprise, a four-hour flight and several days’ hotel stay, only to be turned away in a half-hour when my sister (who was staying with them) and brother intervened and convinced them that we presented a mortal COVID threat. My 83-year-old mother has been in bad health lately, but my 86-year-old father plays tennis with friends three times a week (!), gets outdoors every chance he gets, and my sister had been staying with them for two weeks.
I find their fear and COVID hysteria reprehensible, as they had previously both been very outgoing, social, and affable. With a 95 percent survival rate even at their age, I take their fear as a sign of moral cowardice, reinforced by the news they read. I feel this moral cowardice also explains my sister and brother’s broken marriages and my second brother’s homosexual “marriage” and lifestyle, which everyone but me embraces. I’m the only one of four children with an intact traditional family.
I regularly talk to my parents, as I take the Fifth Commandment seriously, but I really don’t want to talk or be with my siblings again, nor to expose my sons to their cowardly worldview. Am I wrong?
Heartbroken in San Francisco
Regarding your sons, I would trust your own judgment. Especially if they are under age 6, when they feel but cannot understand or distance themselves from negativity, I would keep them away from negative interactions as much as possible and concentrate on building up in them a love of what is right and good.
Theoretically, if they are older, these interactions might serve as powerful teaching moments. Either they will see their dad acting like a real-life hero—calm, strong, and rational in the face of attack—or if the attacks have cracked you, then as you admit your misstep, they will see what moral strength really looks like.
You mentioned Jordan Peterson, who is a great example of calm in the face of attack. Of course, being ambushed psychologically by family, as in your situation, may be much harder to cope with in the moment than being questioned by a hostile interviewer or panelist in a conversation where you expect the punches to come flying. However, it still takes a strong character to face negativity with calm, and it takes a process to get to this point.
I have recently seen my own shortcomings in this regard, so I don’t stand in judgment, but with the belief in the utmost importance of continuing to fortify our hearts in love and forgiveness.
Regarding the “moral cowardice” of your family, I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, society has changed dramatically in the past four years as hatred has spun out of control. Hatred is irrational, meaning there is no logic to it. Now, if this hatred only existed in one camp, I think it would be easily overcome. But hatred is contagious, and what is happening is that the lack of logic and coherence on one side has infuriated many on the other—fueling what might seem to be righteous anger. But you can’t fight fire with fire.
Communist revolutions draw life from the clash of different factions. It is actually a tactic of revolutionaries to rev up both sides because the resulting chaos sets the perfect stage for destruction and authoritarianism.
So we must keep the righteousness but understand that heated passions of hatred and anger are our real enemies. An analogy, which I saw on social media several months ago, speaks to this: If you’re carrying a hot cup of coffee through a busy cafe and someone bumps into you, what is jostled out of your cup will be hot coffee. If you’re carrying a cup of hot tea, then hot tea is what will spill on you.
To extend the metaphor, if we fill our cups with cool, pure water in the form of love, humility, and forgiveness, then when we are jostled, this is what will come out. Knowing that in today’s culture, attacks and disturbing ideas may lurk around every corner, I try daily to fortify myself with that which allows me to transcend negativity.
So to deal with your family I would say first: Focus on forgiving them. See them as victims of an insidious culture that you escaped only by divine grace. You mentioned that it was in part your wife and her community that helped change your perspective. To me this seems a beautiful testament to the power of love and a spiritual perspective: Together these forces transformed a “rabid” youth into someone who clearly values goodness and truth. It makes me curious too: What did your wife think of your beliefs when you first met? Evidently, she saw something of value in you despite the rough surface.
No matter a person’s age, he or she can still be transformed by love and encounters with people of virtue. Practically speaking, not everyone will undergo transformation, of course, but I think we cannot adequately judge, and as soon as we deem someone irredeemable, then we certainly will not be able to help them.
Secondly, another tool that might help in dealing with your family is to ask: Where am I wrong? Where am I not meeting a high enough standard?
Speaking from my own experience, it’s one thing to be right in terms of facts (and truth is, of course, important!) but there’s a higher principle we must strive for as well: to manifest love and compassion, reflecting divine mercy in how we treat others. Now, I’m not saying I’m able to achieve this at all times, because as I said above, it takes a process to come to the point where you can face negativity with calm. But by measuring myself against this standard, I’ve been able to make a lot more progress.
When hatred is met with calm and love, it becomes powerless and dissipates, and then reason and logic become effective.
So to answer your question of whether it’s wrong to break contact with your siblings, I would say that if you’re feeling heartbroken, then you should step back.
Then give yourself time to reconnect with those you love and renew your spirit. With peace of mind and heart, you will then start to have compassion for the suffering of your siblings. It seems they all have suffered a great deal with broken marriages and hatred defining their lives.
Your brotherly love could well be their saving grace, but let it come authentically and give it time to grow strong. Also, I’m sure your devotion to your parents is appreciated, whether or not it’s acknowledged.
When you’re ready, one idea for nourishing seeds of familial love is to share things with your children about your family, either past or present, that remind you of their best selves. If your children are older, you can talk about what you genuinely do admire and appreciate in family members. If your children are young, tell them stories about family members with an emphasis on the good qualities of each person. It is a universal characteristic of young children that stories about goodness make their eyes shine. It is a great way to help them build love and virtue into their character.
Do you have a family or relationship question for our advice columnist, Dear June? Send it to DearJune@EpochTimes.com or Attn: Dear June, The Epoch Times, 229 W. 28th St., Floor 7, New York, NY 10001.
June Kellum is a married mother of two and longtime Epoch Times journalist covering family, relationships, and health topics.