No one wants to have the conversation—but no one can avoid it, either
It’s coming: the holiday gatherings with your extended family members who don’t exactly share the same views as you when it comes to outdoor recreation.
That’s right. You know the feeling. You’re helping yourself to some seven-layer salad, and your Uncle Gary saunters up next to you. You’re either going to dance around the elephant in the room, or one of you is going to address it. Either way, you’re filling your plate with those pickle things your mom makes every year, and you’re also filling your body with cortisol as you and Uncle Gary tiptoe around the subject.
It’s almost easier if one of you just brings it up. If, say, Gary just lobs it out there like he has in the past: “So, are you planning on going ice climbing in 2018?” he’ll say in that vaguely mocking tone, trying to get a rise out of you. You can take one of two routes: You can meet his aggression with aggression, or try to meet it with compassion and have an actual conversation about a subject you may never agree on.
Route 1: Compassion
You know, Gary, I know you disagree with my ice climbing, but I think it might be because you don’t understand it. You and I just think differently. You think people should do fun things in their spare time, and I want to spend my time—well, in pain, and call it fun. I don’t expect you to understand the joy of having freezing water run into the cuffs of your sleeves, chunks of ice hitting you in the face, swinging sharp tools while in a very tenuous stance, and standing around in freezing temperatures. But I think if you tried it you’d like it.
Route 2: Aggression
Every fucking holiday dinner, Uncle Gary. You pull this shit. You know what your problem is? You don’t even pretend to try to understand someone else’s point of view. Maybe if you ever left your insulated little community where everyone agrees with you, and actually tried to seek out some other points of view, you’d have a shred of empathy and could actually wrap your head around why someone with no other major issues would want to spend a day hacking at a frozen waterfall until their hands feel like they’re both on fire and exploding.
Social media has enabled us to create our own online communities where we communicate only with people who agree with us, and although dozens of otherwise perfectly normal people (maybe even hundreds) seem to “enjoy” ice climbing, not everyone in America does. Nor do they understand what it is. There’s a distinct possibility that because of the way her Facebook feed populates, your Aunt Marjorie might not even believe in ice climbing. It is, you might admit, kind of ridiculous. And as we all know nowadays, just because some website wrote an article about something, that doesn’t mean it’s true.
Sure, you can pull out your phone while you’re pouring eggnog for everyone, in hopes that showing everyone a few Instagram photos of ice climbers might convince them, but in an age of misinformation, they may have a hard time believing you—photos can be faked, after all. It is fairly incredulous, you might admit if you took a step back. Really, to the unenlightened observer, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that someone would traipse into the woods to chop and kick at a fragile thing like ice as a means to ascend higher and higher off the ground. I mean, it’s a great way to punch a hole in a pair of $350 pants, but why would you spend all that time, money, and effort, when you could just do something fun, like skiing, or building a snow fort, or day drinking?
If you’re going to talk about it, maybe think of a very calm, non-judgmental way to explain what ice climbing is, and why you do it. Sometimes people fear what they don’t understand, and it’s not super easy to understand climbing ice, isn’t it?
Plus, is it your job to sit down at Christmas dinner and convince every single member of your family that ice climbing is a sane, maybe even fun activity, and they should all do it, just like you do? Good luck with that one. Maybe consider shutting your fat mouth and passing the peas instead, so your dear grandmother doesn’t get another ulcer, like she did two years ago. You remember.
You’re going to go ice climbing whether or not your Uncle Gary approves of it, so maybe you could just change the subject and talk to him about football, or the weather, or his new table saw. In the end, you have to decide what’s more important to you: pushing your ice climbing/masochistic agenda on the entire family, or choosing to be a little less selfish in the name of making good holiday memories. We don’t get together that often anymore, and we don’t know how long everyone is going to be with us. Maybe we could just have a nice time this year.