Without fail, Thanksgiving always sparks my yearly festive spirit as it officially ushers in the holiday season. From the nostalgia induced by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (and more importantly, the National Dog Show that follows), to my shabby culinary attempts, to the family reunion where we all finally sit down in one place, I have a special reverence for all that November’s fourth Thursday brings.
And then there are those rousing political conversations. What would Thanksgiving be without those?
If your family is anything like mine (a murky shade of purple, with a mix of deep red and dark blue), each holiday is always colored by some good, old-fashioned partisan rancor. Here are a few suggestions to get you through your Turkey Day unfazed.
Living Room Conversations specializes in promoting civil discourse, and in the spirit of the upcoming holiday, they put together a Conversation Guide to help you and yours have the most productive political discussions possible. They acknowledge that families are most prone to heated debate, with emotional stakes running considerably higher in close relationships than among casual acquaintances. The guide stipulates some core skills — for instance, assume good intent and exhibit genuine curiosity towards others’ views. And they also pinpoint some hazard signs to avoid, from the obvious (no insults or name-calling, please) to the subtle (don’t overgeneralize — no one likes to be pigeonholed). Look through their step-by-step model on how to build a genuine connection with each person you speak with, and if things take a turn for the worse, check their first aid kit for a quick remedy.
While the LRC guide covers a wide berth, one point merits particular emphasis: ask to listen, not to respond. In our highly charged political atmosphere, we tend to pose queries with the next two locked and loaded before we’ve even heard a response to the first. And we’ve all asked that leading question (you know, the one we already knew the answer to). In that vein, try not to “debate” this Thanksgiving, which naturally calls for a winner and a loser — essentially, another political cage match where someone is dealt a proverbial knockout blow. Instead of debating, discuss.
And finally, the simplest piece of advice — if you know some relatives will refuse to abide by respectful terms, perhaps designate Thanksgiving a politics-free 24 hours, with a reset on Black Friday. Our political landscape will still be there.
As we gather around the table this year, my dad will almost certainly ask that we each say what we’re thankful for in turn. After the collective groan subsides and I take the hot seat, maybe I’ll share that I’m grateful for discussion — reasoned, civil and respectful discussion. After all, in today’s polarized climate, that’s no small feat.