Co-authored by Jinnie Spiegler, Director of Curriculum at the Anti-Defamation League and Board Member at Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility.
For some, Thanksgiving is a time to connect with relatives, experiment with new recipes, relax with some needed time off, and watch football. It's as simple and easy as that.
But not for everyone. If your typical Thanksgiving dinner fills you with dread and anxiety because of family "conversations" (i.e. arguments) around politics, this year's promises to be one for the family history books. SNL's A Thanksgiving Miracle last year captured it best, but we all know that a few bars of Adele's "Hello" is not going to squash the fights about this year's election.
This election cycle's campaign, outcome, and aftermath has been the most intense in decades. It's no wonder that #SurvivalGuideToThanksgiving has been trending on Twitter. There are reports that many people are threatening to skip the festivities altogether or vowing to dodge the topic. But what if that is not an option? What if you don't want to avoid election talk? What if you actually want to go there because these issues are important and core to who you are?
Below are seven tips for navigating this year's Thanksgiving conversation and putting your best social and emotional skills to the test.
#1: Do some emotional planning in advance
A few days before Thanksgiving, do some self-reflection about what is most important for you to say and think about how to say it. Practice with a friend. Preparation helps. When we get triggered and upset, that's when we say things in harsh and regrettable ways. Reach out to relatives with whom you may have had disagreements in the past and see if you can come up with some "ground rules" (e.g. no name calling) about how you'll communicate. At the very least, you've set up the expectation that politics will come up and you value the person enough enough to discuss it in advance. And remind yourself that while conflict is often uncomfortable, it doesn't have to be negative and sometimes it can lead to increased understanding.
To truly listen is not easy. Try to really listen with an open mind and heart. Find ways to free your mind when someone is talking and hear what they are saying. Try to see things from their perspective, background and experiences. Remind yourself that understanding their perspective is not a betrayal of your own. Put your judgments--at least temporarily--on the back burner. You might practice a way to respond like "I don't see the issue in the same way but I want to hear your point of view."
#3: Communicate with the goal of being understood.
When we talk with people whose politics are counter to our own, we tend to communicate as if we are in a debate and want/need to win. This attitude is reinforced on social media where Facebook battles persist and drag us down. Try to express your point of view with the sole purpose of increasing understanding. If you didn't vote for Trump, don't lead with what an awful person you think he is. Share what about his tone and positions concerns you. Speak from your own point of view and try to use I-messages ("I feel...., "I think...") as much as possible.
#4: Realize not everyone has the same information
We all read and listen to different news' sources and our social media feeds tend to be populated with positions that match our own. We tend to think that if everyone had the information we had, they would come to the same conclusions. It's important to remind ourselves of that and even talk about the possibility of regularly sharing and/or reading a news article that is one we typically wouldn't.
#5: Acknowledge your own triggers
We get triggered for different reasons--it could be a particular issue, family history, or a person who pushes our buttons. When you do get triggered, take care of yourself. Don't be rude and abrupt, but if you are very upset about something that was said, excuse yourself briefly and do what you need to do. Breathe. Go for a walk. Make a joke. Play some music. Chat or vent privately with another member of the family.
#6: Promote empathy
Thanksgiving dinner is a good opportunity to spread a little empathy. For example, if the topic of immigration comes up, in a gentle way share a story about someone you know who is undocumented--what their life is like, who they are, what they need. Listen to stories that others around the table want to share. Part of deep listening is truly trying to understand emotionally where the other person is coming from.
#7: Agree to disagree
Recognize that if the conversation keeps going in circles--rehashing the same points over and over--and listening and communication has ceased, end the conversation before it gets out of control. While it may sound cliché, agreeing to disagree is a civil and polite way of acknowledging that you aren't going to come to agreement and that you care about the relationship. It's an olive branch, a recognition of the differences between you, and a possible invitation to pick up the conversation at a later date.
Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility works hand in hand with educators to help young people develop the values, personal qualities, and skills they need to thrive and contribute to their communities. For more tips on navigating post-election conversations, follow @MorningsideCtr on Twitter or visit Morningside's blog, Teachable Moment.