All I can say is that I should have known.
On August 21st, 2017, when a solar eclipse prompted my mother to walk barefoot around our front yard, sipping on rose-water and attempting to convince us of the energetic properties of this astronomical phenomenon — I should have known she would only get worse with time.
In all seriousness, no-one could have possibly predicted the events of 2020 — and that is, suffice to say, that when I moved back home in March of last year, due to the closure of my university and a nationwide lockdown, I was not adequately prepared for the consequences of co-habitating with a covid-19 conspiracy theorist, aka my mother.
Here’s how that went, exactly…
First Things First
It would be easy to dismiss my mother as nut case. In many ways she does embody all the qualities of a good nut, but the high degree of competence she exhibits in all other facets of life, would have to argue. She is a very successful business broker, a woman guided by equal parts logic, love, and integrity, and easily one of the hardest working human beings I’ve ever met.
But instead of those facts making this whole conspiracy thing better, they actually just make them worse.
You see, as her eldest daughter and self-proclaimed social justice warrior, I am both perplexed and continually provoked by her seemingly effortless ability to oscillate between the extremes of her personality and personal systems of belief.
On the one hand, she is honest, highly intelligent, and the very first person willing to offer a helping hand to a person in need. On the other, she aligns herself proudly with the patriotic values of Donald Trump, thinks dental flouride is a mind-control drug, and believes that Covid-19 is a plot crafted by the elites to introduce a bioengineered microchip to the masses.
I mean, what is a person to do?
How to reconcile the fact that the person who raised me and my siblings with a moral compass stronger than moonshine, is precisely the same one to be drinking the media Kool-Aid of conspiracy?
How am I to navigate discussions of current events when we are both so vehemently committed to our own version of the opposite truth?
What Was Tried
Instead of attempting to answer those questions, an easier place to start, perhaps, is with what was tried.
For example, I can say definitively that the following practices are not conducive to a collaborative discourse, nor any changing of minds, whatsoever:
- slamming doors
- screaming fights
- downtown debates that get you kicked out of the car
- public shaming on facebook
- using the term ‘white privilege’ when one or more parties conflates this phrase with the notion of ‘having an easy life’
And so on and so forth.
It’s tricky, because the issues my mother and I have these fundamental disagreements about, are the same genre of issues that, in my mind, are the most worthwhile to become upset over, in the first place. I’m sure our neighbors can attest to the fact that by three or four months into my return home, my mother and I were well on our way to earning the reward for most dysfunctional communicators of the year.
Looking back, an awful lot was said over the course of my stay— whether pertaining to social politics, pandemics, or both — and regrettably much of it with a raised voice and an unnecessary sharpness of temper.
Come to find out that no strength of emotional charge is enough to shock another person into ideological submission. No tears, no anger, and no amount of swearing is ever going to be enough to sway someone to the other side — because trust me, I have tried.
What Was Learned
Indeed, this past year has been a journey of learning and personal growth, to say the least, and subsequently there are a few commandments my mother and I have chosen to adhere to when it comes to our little talks.
In other words, here is a list of the things you should do, should you ever be so lucky as to find yourself in an enclosed location with a combative (but otherwise lovely and level-headed) conspirator:
- remain calm — gain the upper hand by exhibiting ongoing composure
- reject the idea that there is an upper hand to be gained — on second thought, you should reorganize your efforts and center them around mutual benefit and effective compromise
- leave all expletives and name-calling behind — they are fun but are no help in the moment
- start in the middle — discuss what beliefs you already have in common and go from there
- start at the end — alternatively, getting an idea of the overarching values and end goals of the other person, may be illustrative of where they’re coming from
- call in the witnesses — by bringing an impartial third party or two into the conversation, you will both be forced to be on your best, productively communicative behaviors
- change the subject — when in doubt, it’s always worth taking a step back and evaluating to what extent this conversation needs to occur right now
I am happy to report that since returning to my flat in London, my mother and I have only engaged in three heated discussions, each time a slightly more dignified iteration of before. We are learning to end the conversation before we cross the point of no return, and to use humour as a way to release our frustration with the other’s point of view.
And we are learning to love despite, and not because.
For instance, my name is Alexandra Walker-Jones, and I love my mother despite the fact that she’s a conspiracy theorist.
Alexandra Walker-Jones — January 2021