I’ve written past columns about civility, divisiveness, throwing babies out with bathwater, and the pure vitriol being spewed about all things political. On this weekend before Thanksgiving, I decided the time was right to offer some strategies to possibly save family unity, preserve everyone’s sanity, keep the gravy from curdling, and the food from flying.
I struggle to believe that any family with a minimum of eight members (bonus points for double digits) can make it through an entire Thanksgiving dinner without the subject of politics coming up at some point. Unless there has been an express ban on any topic vaguely related to politics (and even then, there’s always Great Uncle Harold who doesn’t think the rules apply to him because he’s 90), given today’s climate, it’s going to come up. So how to deal with it without insulting, angering or offending your family?
Lucky for you, I attended the Better Angels Depolarization Within workshop this week and I’m here to help, armed with their “Better Angels Skills for Thanksgiving Conversations – How to Stop a Thanksgiving Dinner Debacle” information sheet.
The Depolarization Within workshop gave us tools to reduce the rhetoric and challenge the stereotyping each side engages in when disparaging the other. To translate, if I can reduce the piling on I do with my like-minded friends about the other side, I can start lessening the ugliness overall.
I am ashamed to say that while I am the writer of a past column exhorting readers to learn people’s stories and motivations before judging their actions and speech, apparently all that high-mindedness goes out the window when I’m talking about supporters of certain politicians. I am not proud of this behavior. Nor is it impressive that when I gather with friends of the same mindset, we can rant and rave about “those idiots” with self-righteous enthusiasm. So, the first step is recognizing my blind spots. The next is to counter stereotypes in my own thinking. Then I learn how to talk about the other side without labeling and how to criticize ideas and policies instead of people. From there, I can work to offer depolarizing perspectives.
This is all good in theory but super hard to implement without practice and commitment. Since I am an outlier in my extended family, I tend to become generally offended by anyone’s political comments at the table because they run contrary to mine. I try not to engage though. According to Better Angels, intervening, interrupting, and redirecting are some of the best ways to nip a rapidly disintegrating conversation in the bud. Basically, back to the tried and true, “please let’s just agree not to talk politics at the table and have a nice dinner without killing anyone” speech.
If you are brave (read: full-on crazy pants) and actually want to have a one-on-one political discussion with a family member, Better Angels has some do’s and don’ts. The do’s include finding something in common, using I-statements (I’m concerned about the border too), and trying to understand the other’s viewpoint before responding with yours. The don’ts consist of not raising your voice, don’t assign negative motives to the other side (“Democrats just want to open the border to criminals and terrorists” or “Republicans just want the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer”), and don’t throw out labels like “socialist” or “anti-immigrant.”
I wish you all the luck with these tools and your family. If no one ends up storming away from the table, you can always hope that the combination of alcohol, turkey tryptophan, carb overload, and football will throw everyone into a food coma. When they awake from that, perhaps everything will be forgiven, and you can then mentally prepare yourself for Christmas. Ho, ho, ho.