Dealing with the extended family is like treading on egg shells. What to say, what not to say, how to say, et al. I hate having to do it. It’s annoying and draining and exhausting, all at once. I dreaded it every single time, until the mother, in absolute desperation, shared a gem of wisdom with me. She said, “Forget that they are your relatives. Treat them as human beings. Individuals, or perhaps, strangers, who deserve your respect, politeness and kindness. Remain aloof from the conversation.” A simple thought; it made my life so much simpler.
Over the last few months, I’ve learnt that conversing or spending time with an individual without the baggage of familial ties is refreshing. I approach them as a friend or sometimes, as a stranger would. Carefully, avoiding being personal, sticking to the mundane. Keeping aside the many yesterdays of discontentment between us, to begin on a fresh note. I’ve learnt to steer the conversations towards them. Ask them their thoughts, how they feel, what they are doing; making them the centerpiece of our conversations. And most people I know seem to enjoy talking about themselves. And they do so unabashedly, occasionally forgetting me standing next to them. The few who do remember, also remember to keep their discourse short, making it more like a dialogue.
I’ve also discovered that this lends to a feeling of being equals in a conversation. Someone could be twice my age but you let them have a greater say in the conversation and it does wonders to their frame of mind. Yes, the pesky questions persist. But I’ve learnt to answer them carelessly. Because I’ve learnt that most people really do not care about the answers. And eventually forget about them. It is only about the moment.
I now approach people with greater ease. I reach out with greater alacrity, convinced that I don’t have to immerse myself in the moment. It is random chatter and nothing more. Most people want to appear busy and important.
Each time I look at the mother across a room, after a random exchange of words, I whisper a silent prayer of gratitude. It’s helped me bond with cousins to become friends. It’s helped me reach out to ailing aunts and uncles, who could do with some affection and care. It’s helped me become a warmer, friendlier person.