We all have those family members who remind us of oil and water: They just don’t mix. Most of the year, it’s not a problem. We can let our hyper-liberal cousin Jeremiah live happily up East, where he maintains a five state buffer between himself and our uber-conservative Aunt Linda. But at some point or another, the inevitable happens: a family reunion arises. And the horrifying mix of opposing viewpoints that exists between our extended family members begins swirling into the conditions for a perfect storm.

Enter you. The family peacekeeper. The cream of the crop. The golden child whom nobody has ever had beef with, because your mediation skills are second to none.

Well, something like that.

Truth be told, you just really don’t want to have to bandage your brother’s hand again this year after he takes an impulsive swing at Uncle Joe (who, to be fair, could have had one or six less beers and started one to ten less ‘fun and friendly’ debates about health care).

This year, you’re determined to keep your family get-together under control. But it’s going to take some strategic planning and smooth operating. To make the process easier, we’re here to lay down a blueprint of which high-risk relatives you need to look out for – and who you ought to keep them away from, to avoid an all-out brawl.


This is the family member who followed a conventional career path and still firmly identifies with the values and traditions they grew up with. Spot them by their composed demeanor and polite questioning of each cousin as to when they’re going to ‘finally get your life together.’ Soothe the Traditionalist by lying out your butt about your own life course and plans. Tell them you’re pursuing the exact career path they pursued, and plan to purchase the house next door to theirs. They’ll congratulate you on your excellent choices.

To avoid an all-out brawl, keep the traditionalist far, far away from: The new-age philosopher relative. You do NOT want to see that kind of value-clashing go down tonight.


This is the laid-back family member never grew out of their childhood devilishness. They were putting frogs down people’s shirts at age eight and they’re swallowing frogs for YouTube subscribers at age twenty-eight. Find them by loudly inquiring ‘where’s the beer?’ And watch them jump to place one in your hand. Thrill the Class Clown by helping them pull off a mild prank on the new-age philosopher (who will appreciate the demonstration of creative thought that isn’t regularly present at family gatherings).

To avoid an all-out brawl, don’t let the class clown get anywhere near: The debater. There is no way that interaction doesn’t end with a left hook.


This is the relative who recently moved to a self-sustaining eco commune, to focus on the book they’re writing about ego transcendence. Find them by traveling to the most remote corner of the property, where they will inevitably take several meditation breaks throughout the course of the night. Charm them by asking an unending stream of questions about the color of Aunt Alison’s aura and exactly where your chakra might be blocked.

To avoid an all-out brawl, keep the new-age philosopher at least two rooms away from: The Traditionalist. The last thing anyone wants tonight is a mandatory healing circle, which would inevitably follow their blow-out.


This is the relative who had a Nietzsche shrine in their locker during high school, and now thinks it’s a fun game to question people’s political and religious orientations for sport. Spot them by loudly declaring an opinion and watch them push over every family member standing between you, in order to come argue the opposing point of view. Satisfy them by engaging in a bit of mental sparring, even if you must make up half of what you say (I’m looking at you, class clown).

To avoid an all-out brawl, keep the debater far away from: The Traditionalist. You do NOT want to see Aunt Linda’s face when The Debater starts poking holes in the fabric of her worldview.

Now listen – detonating conflict at a family reunion requires the type of skill and precision we usually reserve for emergency room doctors in the middle of a complex surgery. At some point, you’re bound to slip up. New-age Philosopher cousin Hans will inevitably begin explaining his life-altering drug experience to Traditionalist Uncle Jim. Debate-happy second-cousin Jen will inevitably attempt the Socratic method on Class Clown cousin Jess and before you know it, drinks will be flying. Debates will be raging. Feelings will be trampled on left, right and center.

But you, oh cream of the family crop, will be responsible for none of it this year.

You tried.

And that’s more than you can say for cousin Hans.