I often get asked how and why I started my podcast. Ironically, the idea to have a podcast discussing how our generations are growing apart was the result of an unexpected clash of two family traditions that were meant to bring my family closer together. One of the traditions was the brainchild of my parents, while the other was thrust upon us during the pandemic. Through it all, I had the fortune of learning two key life lessons that I’ll carry with me always.
Welcome Back to the Dinner TableLike so many families around the globe, COVID re-introduced the nightly family dinner table – the seemingly picture-perfect expression of a Hallmark moment in the face of chaos. But at our dinner table, it became evident that our opinions and worldviews on the key topics of the moment were growing further apart. With each passing conversation, I was struck by how far apart my sister and I seemed from our parents when it came to our worldviews on a plethora of topics. Everyone is familiar with the Thanksgiving dinner trope of political debate gone awry, but now it seemed that for my family this was playing out on a daily basis, and on much less charged topics than just politics. And what became further evident is that the differing opinions were along generational lines (Gen Z and Gen X in this case). Luckily, my family has always encouraged open and honest intellectual debate, but we were curious if this dynamic was playing out elsewhere. After polling many of our friends, and an “eventful” Thanksgiving with our extended family, it was clear that the answer was a resounding “yes!”. It seemed that even though different generations lived under the same roof, they occupied different worlds.
Why So Negative?Rewind several months before the pandemic, my parents introduced a dinner time ritual which they called “Three Good Things.” This was their twist on a relatively well known meal time tradition which is often referred to as “The Rose and the Thorn” (among many other names), with the simple goal of having family members share stories of good and bad parts of their day. So why did my parents feel this tradition was necessary? Two reasons, according to them. The first is that my mother felt that my sister and I were simply “too negative all the time.” Well, spoiler alert, teens are negative – there is plenty of literature that explains the reasons why- HMB even considered doing an entire episode on this topic. But I can explain it in very simple terms. You know how adults often come home from work and complain about having a tough day? Well, middle school and high school are pretty much like all the tough aspects of work, every day, all day. In fact, I would argue that many people find several aspects of work that are enjoyable on a daily basis, but those aspects are harder to find in school. To be clear, I’m not complaining, it’s just the way school is constructed. So yeah, we can be negative. The second reason I completely understand and admire. My parents wanted to teach us the importance of gratitude – they believe strongly in this lesson. According to them, if you look hard enough, you’ll find many things to be grateful for on a daily basis, and we rarely look hard enough.
Working SymbioticallyClearly, these two reasons work symbiotically because going through the mental effort to find things to be grateful for is a natural antidote to the negative thoughts that swirl around in your head. In fact, my dad dropped some psychological kung fu on me regarding this exact topic. He shared that he sometimes used this technique in therapy because the mind struggles to hold both negative and positive thoughts at the same time. And I’ve seen it play out at our dinner table. A starting negative and somber mood often turned as we went around the table and forced ourselves to find positive aspects of our day. Damn that psychology! As a fun little aside, if you decide to adopt a similar tradition, there are some ‘hacks’ you might want to consider depending on the rules you make. For example, we’re not allowed to use the same good thing as someone else, and food can only be used as one of your good things – so there is a distinct advantage to going first. It also makes it fun to steal someone else’s good thing, like when my dad recently said “…my first good thing is that Ally got an A on a test.” She’s still looking for payback.
There’s No Holding BackWhen the pandemic brought us together every single night, and all of us rarely left the house, the pressure to find three good things on a nightly basis became pretty intense, and at times pathetic (no comment on who was the first to discuss fresh laundry). Then something unexpected happened. Instead of finding “experiential” things to discuss (experiences), everyone started turning to how they “felt” about societal issues that were emerging fast and furious on a nearly daily basis. That’s when “Three Good Things” turned into “Twelve Big Arguments” (as discussed above). And so, Hold Me Back was born. So what’s the morale of this story? Two simple things. First, there is always something to be grateful for. Each day. Every day. Find it. It will change your life. Two, “harmony”, for lack of a better word, is a direct result of the willingness to challenge your own beliefs, not by trying to convince others how they should feel about what they believe. The difference is neither subtle nor negligible, but the key to unlocking a more hopeful future, and the underlying theme of our podcast. To hear more from my father and me, check out ‘Hold Me Back’ on Apple Podcasts.
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