Has the topic of vaccines become the new “no talk of politics, sex, or religion at the dinner table?” As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, the topic of who is or is not vaccinated is sure to come up ahead of the big day. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 58.5% of the United States is currently fully vaccinated against Covid-19. So, if you’re faced with a conflict with your family and friends this holiday season, how do you avoid a squabble of epic proportions?
On Lawyer 2 Lawyer, host Craig Williams is joined by psychologist and therapist Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge to discuss hosting Thanksgiving and how to peacefully broach the controversial topic of vaccines with your family members. Craig and Dr. Roseann take a look at the reality of COVID during the holidays, public health, conflict resolution, negotiation, and the best approach to ensure safety at your home.
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: It is sort of like you know if you were to say, “Hey listen, we’re having this costume party but we’re not going to tell you what the costumes are you just have to show up with that,” you know when we put those boundaries in place, we’d let people know what we expect and then everyone knows how to step up and act appropriately that, that e-mail may just repel the people that shouldn’t be there and keep the conflict down.
Intro: Welcome to the award-winning podcast Lawyer 2 Lawyer with J. Craig Williams bringing you the latest legal news and observations with the leading experts in the legal profession. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.
J. Craig Williams: Welcome to Lawyer 2 Lawyer on the Legal Talk Network. I’m Craig Williams coming to you from Southern California.
I write a blog named, “May It Please the Court.” I have two books out titled, “How to Get Sued” and “The Sled.” Well, as the topic of vaccines become the new no-talk of politics, sex or religion at the Thanksgiving dinner table. As we approach that holiday, the topic of who is or who’s not vaccinated is sure to come up ahead of this big day. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, currently 58.5% of the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 so how do you avoid a squabble of epic proportions among family members during the holiday season?
Today on Lawyer 2 Lawyer we’re going to be discussing hosting Thanksgiving and how to peacefully broach the controversial subject of vaccines with your family members. We’ll take a look at the reality of COVID during the holidays, public health, conflict resolution, negotiation and the best approach to ensure safety during the holiday season and to do that, we have psychologist and a therapist Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge.
Dr. Roseann is an integrative and pediatric mental health expert and founder of the Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health. She was recently featured in an article on CNN.com entitled “Should you go to Thanksgiving Dinner with your Unvaccinated Uncle? Experts help make that Decision” and for that, welcome to the show, Dr. Roseann.
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Well thanks for having me. You know, with everyone so excited about the holidays and this is a really hot topic right now that we need to talk about.
J. Craig Williams: And it’s out there I mean we know the standard rules, you shouldn’t be talking about politics at the Thanksgiving table but now are we going to be adding in this whole new thing about COVID?
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: You know, I think that there’s going to have to be an ever-growing list of taboo topics. I think that the conversation about vaccination status and masks wearing is really very triggering for a lot of people for a lot of reasons and I do think we should leave it at the door.
J. Craig Williams: Well, you know, for example in my situation, I’m nearly 65, I got both of my initial shots and a booster. I’m concerned because I fall in with the number of high-risk categories which is not fun but there I am. So, I’m curious because I want to know. I mean if I’m going to go to Thanksgiving dinner, I want to know the status of the people that are with me, is that fair?
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Yeah, and I think what this really — it’s really flipping the conversation, Craig. So instead of waiting before you go to an event to find out, is this event whatever side you’re on, whether you believe in vaccines or not; is this group aligned with your belief system in a way that you’re going to feel comfortable? You need to ask before you go and that is really important because even though we sometimes feel like, “What do you mean? I can’t ask when I’m there.” Well, you know, just like I talked about on CNN if you’re going to Uncle George’s house and all along, he’s somebody that has very different viewpoints than you and you go there expecting something different, what’s going to happen? Conflict and so you need to find out whatever your belief system is when you’re going to an event before and there are some really good questions that you can ask.
J. Craig Williams: Right, like, “Are you going to wear a mask? Are you vaccinated? How many shots had you had?” and you covered one of the things I read on the article that you talked about was you can lovingly leave if there is a situation that arises that you’re not comfortable with.
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Absolutely and you know I think part of the dilemma of this holiday season is we didn’t have one last year, Craig. Everybody wants to get together and so they sort of want to suspend this belief that, “Oh I’m going to this place where I’m really unsure,” or this is somebody in the past that hasn’t shown themselves — maybe to honor your request about simple things like don’t give my kids sugar or you know, you’re going to Aunt Betty’s and you know she has all this food that you have kids that are allergic to or you’re allergic to whatever it is. But you have to have that level of trust and I think that asking questions just like you said are really important but also asking is there going to be a lot of talk about the vaccination at your event.
And then also too, how are they going to handle conflict at the, whatever family function or friend function you’re going to? I think these are really important things and even as much as we want to go to this event and connect with people, you can lovingly bow out of things. You don’t have to make this a friction-laden thing. You can say you know, “Okay, Uncle George you don’t believe in vaccines, I do. I’m not comfortable. I absolutely adore you, how about if we get together next week at the park?” or wherever place that you feel comfortable with or maybe not but boundary setting is a really, really important thing that we need to do all the time and most people aren’t good at it but it is a way to really avoid conflict with people by being clear in your communication.
J. Craig Williams: Right. And you can always get up and leave but how do you handle the situation when you have guests that come to your house and yet they’re not complying with your wishes and they’re not willing to?
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Yeah, such an important question because you know again, people are going to override their common sense because of this desire for connection, we are really missing connection. So, if you have guests that are either maybe acting inappropriately with their commentary or maybe you’ve asked everyone to wear a mask and they’re not or whatever it is, just like anything at your event if somebody was drinking too much how are you going to handle it? The best way to handle it is to pull them aside and I like to really talk to people you know, you’re going to be respectful, you’re going to be clear and whenever you can, try to use humor and positive body language, right? So, you’re not going to come at them with arms crossed. You’re going to kind of move your body to the side, that’s actually the least threatening way you can approach somebody is sort of angling your body the right or the left and that it is perceived as less threatening to somebody. And then just being like, “Hey you know, Mary we’re asking everybody to have masks on. We’re really clear about it. Is it okay for you to put your mask on because if it’s not then it’s probably time to go,” and that’s okay you were really clear in your boundaries in advance and they’re not honoring it. You’ve got to step up and talk to somebody about it because it’s going to create a larger conflict in the group.
J. Craig Williams: In this day and age, it’s relatively easy to write an e-mail to all of the people that are going to be attending going here they are one, two, three, four, five.
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Absolutely. I mean, my goodness e-mail is so great for letting everybody know what is clear. You can always put a thing in your e-mail that’s like, listen, if you have a question or concern you know, just reach out you know? I think the thing that — Craig, I don’t know if you’ve gone to in-person events yet in terms of like work. And I’m actually at a work event right now and I’m one of those people of course being a psychologist that people lean on and ask questions. And I know that as I’ve gone back to these events, people have said to me, “Roseann, should I go? Should I not go?” and I’m like when in doubt, sit it out, don’t go. You know if you’re that uncomfortable going to an event and this isn’t a level of uncomfortableness where you can’t go anywhere because you’re so frightened because in that case I’m worried about you and you should talk to a mental health professional. But we’re talking about events in general where you’re unsure what kind of protocol is in place and so having things laid out even for a Thanksgiving dinner or afterhours cocktail party is always really helpful for everybody.
J. Craig Williams: Well, everybody always wants to know ahead of time, what’s the dress code? So, this is one more thing to add to it.
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Yeah, absolutely and it is sort of like, if you were to say, “Hey listen, we’re having this costume party but we’re not going to tell you what the costumes are, you just have to show up with it.” When we put those boundaries in place, we let people know what we expect and then everyone knows how to step up and act appropriately. That email may just repel the people that shouldn’t be there and keep the conflict down.
J. Craig Williams: So why is it always a proverbial uncle or in this day and age the proverbial aunt as well? I mean, it seems like there’s a lot of times when the person is — one of the outliers in your family really is that kind of crazy oddball uncle that you have, where do they come from?
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Well, you know, it’s so funny people do have really strong opinions one way or another in terms of vaccination status and that’s okay. I think the thing that’s always so worrisome in all this, Craig is that we are really breaking down in general as a society and people feel like it’s okay to be disrespectful. This is just another one of those topics that’s really causing friction amongst friends, amongst family members and I make a joke that is done —
With an uncle or an aunt but it could be anybody. I’ve seen best friends come to have words over this and really disagree. Again, it’s just a matter of being respectful on both ends and really not getting into these heated discussions everyone wants to talk about, you know “the research or this.” That’s where I say Craig, we leave that conversation at the door, right? So, if you haven’t had that conversation beforehand, shame on you as a host and shame as you as a guest because you can’t just go to a place and expect things nowadays, you have to be an adult and you have to ask in advance.
J. Craig Williams: And you know, a part of being an adult is part of relating to other people and society and one of the things you said in the beginning of your comment was part of this breakdown of society that we see. This is a big broader picture that we’re talking about as part of the what happens at the Thanksgiving table but what’s going on with society?
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Yeah. Well, there’re so many things, we could do a whole topic on that, Craig. But I think ultimately, we are a very stressed culture in America and people are overworking, they’re not taking care of themselves. They don’t know what it is to calm their brain so that they can be more regulated and present, connected. And so, they’re agitated and then we walked into this pandemic and we clearly have seen the effects of social isolation on people and just having such a disruption in work life, family life, educational life.
It’s really taken its toll and we have such high rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation among all ages but our youth in particular. It’s a culmination of a lot of things and at the same time, as we become isolated, we become disconnected, we like to disconnect, we like to binge-watch Netflix when were upset instead of really dealing what’s behind the issues. These kinds of volatile topics are really a place where sort of people put their irritation and they don’t even know why. Like, why are you so angry at somebody and wanting to punch somebody at Disney World? The happiest place on Earth supposedly because somebody’s not wearing a mask, like it can turn very quickly. I think that’s the thing that is very disturbing but there’s a lot of pieces behind and I think if anybody’s listening and they’re feeling like they’re easily irritated and angry, you’ve got to look within yourself. You have to work on that because we can’t change anybody else, we can only work from within and we are not wanting to do that work, which is why so many people are on psych meds. In the pandemic alone we had a 16% increase in adults on psych meds.
J. Craig Williams: Is that because we were all just sitting around watching television and having to face our what, just the kind of the big life questions, “Why am I here? Where am I going? What am I doing?” and all of that reflective time and people just aren’t and weren’t ready for it. What I mean, is that what happened to us in the pandemic?
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: I think some people that’s the case. I think some people were very sedentary, I mean just a real increase in weight gain, I mean a loss of routine and structure. Many people thrive particularly children thrive on routine and structure and for some, working from home was great but for many and particularly women, women took on all a lot of house things, a lot of the education that’s according to research it’s not just me spewing this out and then they were working full-time. It was one of the most stressful time over one million women left the workforce in the beginning of the pandemic so we have so many cultural shifts that have happened during this time. But you know, we’ve become a society where we don’t want to feel anything uncomfortable, right? So, you feel grief, let me take a pill for it, right? There is no pill for grief. The pill for grief is working through those awful emotions and so we’ve become a culture of quick fix instead of really addressing those root causes and sitting and learning how to tolerate that, right? And that’s certainly shifting down to our children. Our children have very little stress tolerance and are much more easily dysregulated by everyday kind of things because they just don’t have tools.
J. Craig Williams: And boundaries, I mean we’ve been talking about setting boundaries in this whole thing and that’s what the law is all about, it’s setting boundaries. And here you have situations where do people feel justified in punching out a stewardess or throwing hot soup into the manager’s face at the fast-food restaurant, why do people feel so justified in physically taking their anger out on others?
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Yeah well, so what happens is I always say nerdy, brainy things with Dr. Ro(ph) from a total neuroscience perspective with what is happening to people. So, we are experiencing, we all have a stress system it’s called the autonomic nervous system and when it’s relaxed it’s in what’s called a parasympathetic state and when it’s stressed, it’s in a sympathetic dominant state, so an everyday stressor, right? Somebody doesn’t have their mask on and all of a sudden you’ve bubbled, right? So, if you have a healthy nervous system where you know how to get yourself back down through breath work or a variety of ways, right? But it knows what that regulated state is so you get irritated, your brain says, “Okay, come on. You know this isn’t important, let it go,” right? But if you’re already agitated, what happens from a nervous system perspective is you don’t have much bandwidth and you go what I like to call as “into the red.” You get very irritated and once you’re in a fight, flight or freeze mode which most people may have heard of but don’t really understand. It means that your nervous system literally reached maximum capacity and from a physiological perspective, you’ve literally have almost lost the ability for rational thought. So, people make these very impulsive anger-fueled decisions and we’re seeing them from people we wouldn’t expect, right? People without a history of violence, right? Even violent talk because it’s easy to morph from violent talk to violent actions when we’re very activated and it’s because everyone has had a hard time in the pandemic.
Most people have struggled, some people have thrived but if they are definitely the minority, right? And so that’s why we’re seeing these increases in volatility because people’s nervous systems are very dysregulated, and easily set off and then people are not making a connection to the daily stress they physically feel like stomach aches or increased heart rate or difficulty sleeping. All those things that are telling us, “Hey listen, your brain is out of whack,” they’re not making that connection and then they’re easily set off. We’re seeing this, I mean, I’ve never seen more people as a psychologist, I’ve never seen more people irritated in such — as I like to call a “viper-ish way” where people are literally just sort of like the little bit of kindling, creates a massive fire.
J. Craig Williams: It almost seems as if we need a national sigh of relief.
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Yeah well, I mean, I’m always — you now my slogan is “Calm brain, happy family” because when we calm the nervous system down and there’s lots of ways to do it that are safe and natural and free that is our sigh of relief, right? Like what do we need to do to support the mental health of our nation should be on the forefront of what we’re doing because we’re always band-aiding things, we’re being very reactive, we are not being proactive and we know very clearly through research that we are hurting.
J. Craig Williams: Is it that we have too much information and we’re constantly — as people call it on the internet “doom scrolling” and seeing all the negative and it gets overwhelming as well as all of our personal situations?
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: I think for some people, Craig, I think that it’s very real. I think the information, there’s actually great information out there, right? It’s that, are you disconnecting from media? Are you allowing your brain a break is one part. Are you over focusing on negative or are you getting on two sites with people who are hate talking? I mean there’s things out in the world that I cannot believe these organizations exist that spew hatred towards groups of people, right? This is shocking to me that this goes on in this country at this time in the world but the basis of it is hate and there’s people – you can’t love other people if you don’t love yourself, right? And there’s a lot of wounded people walking around in the world. They just don’t look wounded on the outside.
J. Craig Williams: And how far back does this go into our psyche? Is this something that’s innate in us? I mean I think of the examples of the caveman and the tribalism that occurred where you keep the women and the food on your side and away from the invaders on the other side. Do we still have that kind of mentality, us and them?
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: You know, Craig these are very much primitive reflexes left over and I speak a lot about racism and our brain is tuned in to look for something different, something negative.
Because as cavemen, we had to be on alert for being harmed, right? And so, when something is different, a lot of times we put a negative connotation on it, right? And so, it’s easier for our brain to say, “Oh there’s hate speech,” I can resonate with that versus you have to train yourself to be positive and especially when we have things like intergenerational trauma. We don’t even know the trauma effect of what’s going to happen on all of these kids and families who really seem to struggle the most, right? Parents and kids really struggled and of course adults who lost their jobs, right? And had difficulty getting food on the table.
We don’t know the impact but what we know is, is that trauma does come with us, right? And you have to work against that tide. You can do it; I work with people every day who do it but you have to have a conscious awareness and a willingness to take those micro-steps because it’s the micro-steps that really create change.
J. Craig Williams: You know, many people in this situation where they are now and what I’m hearing you’re saying in a way is also that people feel powerless. They don’t have the ability to make these changes, these things that are coming from the outside and all the things that are invading are just so different.
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Very much and when we talk about things like clinical conditions like anxiety or depression or any of them. Often that the root of them is a sense of loss of control and we are not teaching people that control starts from within, right? We are always in control of our mindset even when our thoughts feel completely runaway, right? And we can learn through conscious effort to think differently about others, think differently about ourselves. I mean, I think one of the most striking things that I see from all ages, from young children to people that are elderly is that often people are really rough on themselves and there’s a lot of negative self-talk. That negative self-talk, it’s easy to flip to negative outward talk. When I think back to even just this topic, why is this so volatile for people? Well, people are bubbling in the inside and that’s why like you say the law is boundaries too. And when we provide a safe container for people, there’s just much less likely to have that friction of those expectations and people are more able to regulate when they know what those boundaries are.
J. Craig Williams: It even plays into that the social niceties and they go along with Thanksgiving and all of the politeness which as you’ve pointed out seems to be headed out the window.
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Absolutely and I think we’re in a place where people seem so on-edge and so stressed. I’m a very fun, loving, playful person and I bring that into all my work and I work with people who are struggling with mental health and I think that when you’re having conflict, right? Like, your cousin wants to get into — know the vaccination status of your children and whatnot and isn’t being polite when you deflect the conversation which you should do and use humor about it like, “Oh, George remember we went fishing,” you know, you want to deflect, go back to things that you share commonalities, really important. But niceties, I think people are so — again, struggling within their own and then we’re re-entering the world like it’s really — I talked about re-entry panic syndrome in the beginning of the pandemic now, I’m talking about re-entry socialization. I mean people need to be re-socialized. They’re used to just sort of doing their own thing, being on Zoom, on their own and now we’re getting together, always lead with manners, right? And you can never go wrong when you do the right thing.
J. Craig Williams: It’s almost like we have to learn to behave all over again.
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Absolutely, for sure like it feels weird to like, “Oh look, I’m going to be in a function and I have to have small talk and I have to have multiple conversations,” and it may feel overwhelming to people and that’s important to even acknowledge that for yourself.
J. Craig Williams: Right and there are social dynamics in a gathering, people are going to have feelings get hurt, perhaps expressed inappropriately, perhaps expressed appropriately. But how is a host — let’s assume that we have — the fight breaks out at the Thanksgiving table where the uncle and the hippie son disagree with one another? How does the host deal with that?
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Yeah. Well as somebody who has to deal with conflicts within families all the time, I think the first thing is to say, “Hey, okay, George and Mark, we’ve already said this is off-limits,” and then bring some kind of humor in, right?
These are people you know, so bring in a funny little antidote or something that it literally changes the conversation, right? Don’t expect to continue the conversation with rules and it won’t get heated. I think you need to just stop it and say this is off the table, I was really explicit about it and then shift it into something else. And think about too, even your gatherings like what do you bring into these gatherings? Were you bringing some joy and some lightness, right? That can maybe even stop these conversations from happening, like are you going to have twister? Where that everyone’s going to be hysterical, are you going to have some kind of games? Like what can you do to sort of lighten things up because I mean as I’m going to a lot of different kinds of events and vaccine talk is prevalent. Some people are quite treating it like the Spanish Inquisition and you need to make sure if you’re the host, you have a lot of power as a host. I’m often a host, I host every holiday but one and I lay out the ground rules for just about everything from what people bring and people are really appreciative.
J. Craig Williams: Now let’s talk about what you bring in addition to bringing some joy to the table, should you be bringing any alcohol?
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Well, you know, that is really what each person decides. I feel like when you are — let’s say you are sort of unsure what the dynamic of your family is. Alcohol lowers inhibition, right? And if you are like, “Well I got to serve something,” think about lightning lightening it up, making it a punch or a sangria but it’s also okay to have alcohol-free events. You don’t have to drink at an event to have a good time.
J. Craig Williams: Well as we get close to wrapping this thing up, let’s talk about vaccines in children. Now the United States government has approved apparently children five to eleven get vaccines, how’s that going to play in the dynamic of what we’ve been talking about?
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Well, I think that as parents are getting together, first of all you need to have a conversation with your kid about it. You need to whatever your family plan is you need to let your kid be in on that and understand it and I think that it’s okay, if you’re unsure or you’re — what you’re going to do. You need to tell your kid if somebody asks you, you’re going to say, “I don’t know” or even if you have been vaccinated. It’s really private conversation but you need to give your kids the tools and the resources and I think that I can see a lot of dividing happening between families for people that are choosing not to vaccinate their kids, especially when kids have antibodies and don’t need the vaccine yet. If they’re testing for antibodies and this is what the research is showing us, you need to probably not have conversations with your friends about it because again, this is showing up at a very extreme but don’t leave your kids out of the loop, give them the verbiage of how to handle these conversations.
J. Craig Williams: Well, it’s been a wide-ranging conversation here Dr. Roseann but it looks like we just about reached the end of our program. So, I’d like to take this opportunity to let you share your final thoughts as well as your contact information so our listeners can reach out to you if they’d like.
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Yeah. I mean, I just want to say whenever you have to have any difficult conversation with anybody; boundaries, lots of love and care and just come across soft. You literally can never go wrong doing that and it preserves loving relationships with people with people that you care about and you’re going to feel better about it, they’re going to feel better about it. You can catch me pretty much on every social media outlet as Dr. Roseann and that’s D-R-R-O-S-E-A-N-N and then my website is drroseann.com.
J. Craig Williams: Well, great. Thank you very much. This is where we wrap up. I just like to thank our guest, Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge for being our guest today. It’s a pleasure having you on the show.
Roseann Capanna-Hodge: Well, thanks to this important conversation I know will help families navigate whatever lies ahead during the holiday season.
J. Craig Williams: Well, I think Dr. Roseann is right. There’s a lot to be said for frontloading and being prepared, especially with children for the upcoming holiday. We’ve always got the crazy uncle out there seems to be almost at every dinner table and politics is always been a taboo subject. So, this is just one more thing to put on the list. We didn’t talk about any laws this time, there’s that crazy one out there, I think it’s in Rosemead(ph) where you must serve ice cream with a spoon, you cannot serve it with a fork. So, this Thanksgiving, if you’re in Rosemead, be careful there are laws that may affect you and in Redwood City up north in California, don’t fry your gravy after Thanksgiving, you’re breaking the law. It’s a crazy life but enjoy your Thanksgiving. So, thanks for listening today, if you like what you heard, please rate us on Apple Podcast, your favorite podcasting app, you can also visit us at legaltalknetwork.com where you can sign up for our newsletter.
I’m Craig Williams thanks for listening. Happy Thanksgiving to all, join us next time for another great legal topic. When you want legal, think Lawyer 2 Lawyer.
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