The joy of the holidays is often accompanied with unfinished conflicts within families. Here is an idea for those holiday gatherings you love to hate. All of us have two choices for the holidays: We can choose to spend them somewhere else, or we can clear up the issues and enjoy the holidays in more love and harmony together. Yes, I know, easier said than done, but it is possible.

First discuss with your family (or other group) that your intent is to clear up unfinished business among you. Name the issues and discuss directly with the people involved what you would like to do. Remember conflict is not all you may want to express. You can share tender unexpressed loving feelings too. Tell them you have found a way that might work if people are open to trying something new, because you can’t heal a problem by doing the same old thing.

Use a talking stick. When a person has the stick, no one else is allowed to speak. The person with the stick can say anything and everything that’s on his or her mind, as long as they speak from the heart and with respect.

When expressing yourself, try to avoid the word but. It tends to cancel what you have said previously. And, on the other hand, is inclusive. Also, try to speak in I statements as much as possible, such as I feel or I need.

It is a good idea to make this stick together, a project that could be done by the boys or men in the family. Everyone should contribute something of themselves to this stick. That way they have invested their energy into it. It can be elaborate or a simple stick, with carving or beads, jewelry, or stones glued to it.

Any object designating a spokesperson, such as a stone, a small sculpture, or staff, will create the same result. I know of a men’s group in Atlanta that uses a black onyx egg signifying the deep tender feelings that men have buried. If you use a stone or something that does not need embellishment, pass it around the room in the circle of your relatives as you begin and ask that as they hold it, they state their intention for the gathering. For example, “I, Jasmine, intend to do my part to restore love and harmony and share my truth in this family.” Of course each person will have their own words.

The talking stick or stone does several important things. First, it restores a sense of respect among those engaged in conflict. Secondly, it gives each family member the opportunity to be heard without interruption. This is especially important with children.

I have adopted its use in youth groups, sharing feelings and good-byes for graduating high school seniors, with friends and family members during times of parting, and at other times when events or feelings need to be discussed. It can be used to honor someone leaving for school, for work abroad, or to share deep and tender feelings when it is hard to say something. If you move from the heart, tell the truth, and remain respectful, your conflicts may turn into compassion, love, and better understanding.

Robin Hereens Lysne in Sacred Living