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  • Pauline Hoffmann

Holiday hate. Is it inevitable?

You may have noticed that I took last week off. (If you didn't notice, shame on you. Or perhaps shame on me for not making you miss me.) I was presenting at the New York State Department of Health Public Health Corps Fellowship Program Summit. Yes, that's a mouthful. In addition to the incredible plenary sessions I attended, I was able to share insights into developing a communication plan for rural health departments.

What came of it? Well, many people working in rural public health want to work together to collaborate in a consortium to provide resources to help us all succeed in communicating with our constituents. Why? Because we don't necessarily have the resources to do this ourselves and there is safety in numbers. There is no competition. We all want the same thing - a healthy community. We want to work together to make sure we all get there.

If things are all roses and sunshine, why did I title this newsletter Holiday Hate? (That's my segue to an entirely different conversation.)

Things aren't all roses and sunshine. My intention this week was to address how you might get through the holidays (U.S. Thanksgiving is Thursday) talking to those family members who have gone down the wrong path. How do you survive turkey and stuffing when you want to stuff your drunk uncle and kick him to the curb? I will still address that, but....

Then I read about the shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs.


There is so much of it.

Dr. Ben Gross, a friend and colleague of mine, shared on a Data Doyenne podcast episode that a recent study by Nathan P. Kalmoe and Lilliana Mason noted that 15% of Republicans and 20% of Democrats thought we would be better off if members of the other party just died.

Let that sink in.

(Yes, I know what I said about that phrase....but really....let that sink in.)

We want people we disagree with to just die? Tis the season, I guess.

Dr. Gross noted that the two of us both have friends across the political aisle. Neither of us wants them dead nor do they want us dead. It's very easy to say and think these things when we don't attach a face to them. Social media allows for a certain degree of anonymity that allows you to wish evil on others because they aren't "real."

I've also been speaking to undergraduate students lately about disinformation - what it is, how to recognize it and how to dispel it. As part of that conversation, I reference conspiracy theories. There is a wonderful interactive graphic that I believe I've referenced in this newsletter before. If not, take a look here.

I often suggest that students either refresh their memories or look up PizzaGate (they are young after all). Let me refresh your memories. Alex Jones, et al, "reported" that Hillary Clinton was involved in a pedophilia/porn ring that was housed in the basement of a pizza parlor in DC. A "concerned citizen" decided to take matters into his own hands and showed up at said pizza parlor with weapons to save the children. Apparently, "the media won't report it."

Yes, we want children to be safe and we want to protect them. Was this true? Not even a little bit. It scared the pepperoni out of the people working that day, I imagine. Disinformation and conspiracy.

Cut to the recent shooting in Colorado. More hateful rhetoric that spawned violence. (To be fair, as of this writing the motive has not been identified in this case but I'm taking what I believe to be a reasonable leap here.)

Disinformation goes beyond just laughing at your drunk uncle who spews untruths. Looking at the conspiracy chart, it is easy to laugh at other conspiracies, but take a look at the way that chart is organized - from speculation to the point of no return. Believing some of these lies can be dangerous as in the PizzaGate conspiracy.

How do we get past this? Another colleague and friend argues that the best way to combat hate is to introduce you to the "other." Once you sit with someone and talk with them you realize you are not so different. Think about what it is you want and need. Start with the basics. We all want to have a place to live. We want food and water. We want safety and security. We want to belong and live without fear. We want our children to also have all of those things. What we believe and how we get those things may be different but think about the basics. If it helps, refer to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

I had an argument with my brother not too long ago. We are on opposite ends of the political (and health care) spectrum. We were arguing and getting in each other's faces. It wasn't pretty. Perhaps you relate? He left my house and I felt terrible and so did he. We ended up texting each other that we needed to put a moratorium in place. We would no longer discuss politics or health care when we are together. We said we loved each other and fighting wasn't what we wanted to do when we got together.

So far, so good. There are so many other things to talk about and to share. Turns out we have other things in common that don't require resorting to fisticuffs. Is this something you can do at your celebrations? Also, we noted that we love each other. We do. Can you say the same about those you disagree with? If so, that's a pretty reasonable starting point.

Let's talk about the larger picture, though. We can get through the holidays and put the kibosh on charged conversations at the dinner table and/or family/friend gatherings. How do we combat the hate that is all around us?

My aforementioned friend and colleague and I talk about this. How do we improve our interactions so that we may come into contact with more people who are not like us? In the case of the shooting in Colorado Springs - do we have friends or others in our network who identify as LGBTQ+? Can we engage with them and see that they are just like us? What about people who have a different religion? Different race and/or ethnicity? Different gender? Different generation? Instead of trying to find our differences, let's focus on similarities. Let's talk.

More importantly, let's listen and hear.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, have a safe, happy and healthy holiday. If you do not, have a safe, happy and healthy week.

Next week I will unpack what it means to listen and hear.

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