Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review of "How to Talk to Your New Age Relative"

I don't actually have a New Age relative. Well, at least not any that has gone so far off the deep end that they are in conflict with me or anyone else in my family. I have, however, had to deal with close friends of the family and people in community groups with beliefs that fit this guide's description of the "New Age". Also, I certainly do have certain outspoken relatives who have beliefs in conflict with my secular humanism, and much of the advice in this guide could be applied to speaking with a relative with any beliefs different from one's own. I have also had relatives who have involved themselves in financial cons and attempted to involve me or other relatives, and this guide also touches on those scenarios as they relate to New Age hucksters.

How to Talk to Your New Age Relative describes itself as "at time light-hearted and humorous", and I would agree. It is a sensibly-organized, quick read (about 25 pages) with a pleasant tone. And a light tone can be necessary when speaking about emotionally-charged issues such as how to deal with a cousin informing you that your dead mother spoke to him in a dream or that your son's cancer is merely a manifestation his inner state of mind.

There are some psychological explanations of "New Age" belief, such as trauma from childhood, that I felt were mere speculation and the guide would have been stronger without them. However, they are mentioned infrequently and as mere possible explanations for some, not all.

Most importantly, all of the advice is rather sound. Probably the best of it for people with strong opposing opinions (like us secular humanists) is the "classic switch-out" (changing the subject) since one of the dumbest thing I've certainly done with relatives and friends is get into a long, exhausting, and fruitless argument over philosophical differences.

This is the sort of common sense advice a mother or wise aunt gives because she knows how important it is for family to get along. The kind of advice that rings true, even obvious, when you consider it from a calm frame of mind, but which is easy to forget when you are taken off-guard, distressed, or pissed off. That's why it's good to have re-iterated and re-enforced, be it through a conversation with a wise friend or a guide written by a wise stranger.

Indeed, when someone we care about upsets us, it is easy to forget that how we respond can damage that relationship even more, or open it to ongoing future conflicts. This guides tells or reminds us how to diffuse and put a (hopefully) final end to conflicts as carefully as possible. And indeed it is painful to watch a loved-one venture into a worldview we do not share, and may in fact despise and deem harmful. This guide tells or reminds us that we can't change people, no matter how much we want to or how sincere our efforts. However, it also points out that we are more than our philosophical beliefs, and we can maintain healthy relationships with our New Age relatives based on what we do have in common.

In summary, I recommend this guide to anyone experiencing conflict or frustration over a relative or close friend with "New Age" beliefs, and who is seeking advice on how to cope. I think such readers will find it both useful and comforting.

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