- With months of protests in Hong Kong dividing society and families, gatherings over Lunar New Year could be tense and heated
- Experts give tips on how to avoid conflicts over political issues during the most important festival of the year for Chinese families
During Chinese New Year, people get together with extended family members who they may seldom see for the rest of the year.
Traditions include handing out monetary gifts in red envelopes, greeting relatives with good tidings for the year, sharing seasonal food and catching up on family news.
This year, however, recent political developments could bring heated debates to family gatherings in Hong Kong.
Seven months of violent protests in the city, which were sparked by a now-abandoned extradition bill but morphed into a wider anti-government movement, have stirred up tensions within society and even divided families.
Relationship experts and social workers share tips on how to avoid conflicts over political issues during the most important festival of the year for Chinese families.
Accept generational differences
The ongoing protests have amplified differences in social values cherished by different generations, says Jessica Ling Yuen-kwan, unit-in-charge of the Parent Support Network at the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups.
Baby boomers, those aged in their 50s to 70s, tend to place more value on social stability, while those born after 2000 generally care more about freedom and democracy, Ling says.
The older generation may think "young people are shallow in their life experiences and narrow in their perspective or response to the social situation", says Hannah Ho Wai-ming, a lecturer in the department of social work at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).
In the end, you'd not need to be on the same page, but you could understand each other betterIan Lam, co-director, Centre for Child and Family Science, Education University of Hong Kong
Young adults, on the other hand, might regard the older generation as "conservative and unable to challenge the status quo that violates the principle of equality", Ho adds.
Many Hongkongers, regardless of age, have never experienced a prolonged political movement, says Ian Lam Chun-bun, a co-director of the Centre for Child and Family Science at the Education University of Hong Kong.
"We don't really have that mental capacity or experience to deal with (such political tension)," Lam says.
Clear communication goals
Lam says the protests could be used as an opportunity to learn more about family members we otherwise rarely speak to.
"Without this social incident, we may not have the right opportunity to truly understand what our family members are like," he says.
The purpose of communicating should be to understand and support other family members, instead of trying to convince and determine who is right and wrong, or denying others, says Ling, who is also a registered social worker.
"The holidays offer a chance for different generations to understand each other's needs, while respecting different values and backgrounds," she adds.
Pay attention and listen
Take notice of your emotions and reactions if political issues arise in conversation, Ling suggests.
According to Lam, active listeners paraphrase what the other person has said and point out common ground. "In the end, you'd not need to be on the same page, but you could understand each other better."
Why Hong Kong protests are driving families apart
A pounding heart, loud voice or angry, red face are signs that you are no longer being rational, Lam adds. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that communication takes time.
When arguments escalate, both parties should give themselves space to calm down. Excuse yourself and take a quick walk, Ling advises.
Switching to a different topic or joining family activities will also help ease tensions, says Ryan Cheung Yat-ming, a professional consultant in the department of educational psychology at CUHK.
Remember it's a family festival
"We should not let what happens in society affect family bonds," says Cheung, who encourages people to put family first.
"Understanding of family members is far more important than persuasion," social worker Ho says. "Letting love and respect for diversity be a higher value than political stance in a family is a good way to avoid these disputes."
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