The “Holiday Season” (for us in the USA, that means Thanksgiving through New Years Day) is a time in which many of us will be seeing our extended families over the next five weeks. As my wife, Jennifer, and I are the only skeptics in our extended families, there is a certain level of disconnection that exists between us and our families, especially when it comes to our families understanding what skepticism is all about. Almost everyone else in our family falls on a scale. At one end, they don’t care at all about being skeptical of pseudoscientific claims, and on the other end, they don’t have a clue about how science works.
This can be frustrating to a skeptic, such as myself, because many people in my extended family I consider to be intelligent and bright people. However, they so regularly fall for claptrap and nonsense, almost as if they are actively trying to be as unskeptical as possible. By profession, the people in my extended family consists of doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, successful business people, and so on. Among the things that these people believe include the existence of ghosts, UFOs, and bigfoot. One of them practices homeopathy. One of them has abandoned scientific medicine for alternative methods of being “cured.” Some of them claim to be psychic. One claims psychic ability with animals. Another with plants. Several of them regularly pay psychics for their services. They consult both astrologers and tarot card readers. Some of them believe in the power of feng shui. At least one of them believes in alien abductions. And as sure as the holiday season comes every year, I will be seeing many of these people and engaging in conversations with them about all sorts of things, the paranormal included. What is a critical thinker to do when forced into the social arena with an unskeptical family, especially during the holiday season?
Over the years I have developed a sort of personal survival guide to the holiday season meetings and conversations with the members of my family. As I am sure that some of you find yourselves in a similar situation as mine, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind as you sip your eggnog in the company of some of your more gullible family members:
1) Try not be confrontational. When I am approached by the family member that wants to tell me about the remains of an alien spacecraft being held at Area 51, I will say “Oh, where did you learn that?” They’ll tell me about a book they read, or a series of articles on the Internet, and I’ll reply again by saying “Oh, that’s interesting.” They’ll continue to blather, I’ll nod politely, and limit my interjections. With any luck, your apparent lack of interest in discussing the subject with them will become apparent.
2) Try to employ quick conversation changes. After they try to further convince me of their belief in the mythology surrounding Roswell, I’ll come back with something like “Oh, New Mexico, that’s near Arizona. Did you see the Arizona Cardinals football game last week?” Make sure you phrase your topic change in the form of a question, that way they are compelled to reply to the question. And if you are extra quick on your feet, you can throw in an additional conversation change on the heels of the original change. For example, after they tell me that they did not see the Arizona Cardinals game last week, I’ll come back with “I saw it on television, in high definition, of course. Have you seen this year’s line of HDTV sets?” See? Now I’m two subjects removed from the original conversation. Hopefully, I’ve turned the conversation around enough by now that I won’t be forced to endure the Roswell nonsense again.
3) Humor as a means of deflection. Lets say that they are persistent, and they come back to the Roswell propaganda again. They will say something like ” So getting back to Roswell, isn’t it interesting how the government to this day refuses to acknowledge blah blah blah..” I’ll try to come up with something light and witty such as “Gee, when did the government become so competent?” Ha ha ha … we share a laugh, and hopefully, mercifully, the conversation will cease or change.
4) Spill your drink a bit. As they try to tell you that the Roswell incident is just one of many alien cover-ups by the US government, tilt your glass ever so slightly and spill a bit of your drink on the ground or the table. Not too much – you don’t want to cause any damage to the rug – but then you can say “Oops!” and start to search around for a towel or some napkins. Clean up the little spill and then (this is important) get up and walk away with the wet towel or napkins to dispose of them in another room. With a little luck, the person will have moved on to a conversation with someone else while your tidying up.
5) Keep your cell phone on and in reach. So they’ll be telling me about how the materials of the crashed saucer stored at Area 51 are so advanced (folks, I am not making any of this up – a person in my family has engaged me on this subject several times before!) and with my right hand I’ll sip my drink, and I’ll nod my head, while casually, I’ll reach down to my belt with my left hand, and hit the volume adjustment on my cell phone. It will make a “ringing” sound, and I’ll say “excuse me”, answer my phone and say “Hello? Oh, yes, is everything all right?” Then I’ll tell my family member “excuse me I have to take this call”, and I’ll walk away pretending to talk on my cell phone. Sure its dishonest, perhaps a bit rude, but its almost always a safe way out of almost any unpleasant conversation.
Please do not mistake this advice as a disliking of anyone in my family. I really do enjoy their company when they are not trying to impress their personal beliefs and delusions upon me. It is because I do care about my extended family that I choose not to take a confrontational or corrective stance about their paranormal mumbo jumbo during the holiday season.