Well, the holidays are upon us. But this most wonderful time of the year has taken on a new level of anxiety in the time of Donald Trump. The mix of political personalities and perspectives seated around any given dinner table means that having a dry turkey is the least of everyone’s concerns. Is your uncle going to kick off hor’s d’ oeuvres with a crack about Hillary? Is your sister fed up with the patriarchy and not afraid to say so? There are countless ways for family gatherings to fall apart these days, and none of us are happy about it.
But dishing up a plate full of stress doesn’t have to be your only option. Whether you are one to walk on eggshells and avoid the subject of politics altogether or are more inclined to drop some bombshells and jump into the fray, a few well-planned strategies can help you navigate the smorgasbord of potential conflict waiting for you at the family table this holiday season.
Walking on Eggshells or Dropping some Bombshells
Walking on Eggshells:
There are many good reasons to not want to engage during the holiday season with family. Choosing to not talk about these issues on this day, in this setting does not mean that you are giving up on or “caving in” on issues that matter deeply to you.
Reasons you can use to express your chosen non-engagement:
“This is family time.”
“We have very few times when we are all together.”
“I don’t want Donald Trump at our dinner table.”
- Know your food sensitivities (Allergies): It really is okay to want a calm, civil family gathering. So if you’re someone who would prefer the group avoid controversial topics altogether—whatever your reasons– that’s fine. Before you gather with your people, think about how you want things to go and how much political talk you can tolerate. Figure out ahead of time how you’ll remove yourself from conversations you don’t want to be in. At the same time, you can’t control other people, so think about a simple way to respond if someone does say something you can’t let slide—racial remarks, misogyny, a hate-fueled opinion on immigration. Be ready to take a few measured breathes to settle your nerves and respectfully say, “That’s really hard for me to hear. I don’t agree. And while I don’t want to use up our family time to talk about it, I do want you to know that I don’t share your thoughts on this.
- Expect some lumps in the gravy: Not every part of the meal will turn out perfectly, and neither will all the conversations. If the table talk starts going off the rails in a way that’s clearly not comfortable for some people, think about how you can step in with kindness and grace. Say something like, “Aunt Helen, thanks for having the courage to say what you think. I don’t agree, but I can tell it means a lot to you, and I appreciate knowing what matters to you.” If you want to plan for a follow-up conversation, do. Just remember that change more often comes through gratitude and empathy than information and argument.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full: As tempting as it is to argue back with someone, it’s not likely to change their minds. Instead, try the “Say more about that” approach. As contrary as it sounds, one of the best ways for any of us to realize the limits of our own position is to have to keep talking about it. A genuine invitation for the other person to explain their position will often end the conversation reasonably quickly while allowing you to remain gracious and kind.
Dropping Some Bombshells:
You might very much want to talk about these issues during your family gathering. This might be the ideal time for people in your family to hear from someone who views the world the way you do.
It is a great gift to share what matters to you and why.
The rationale for this can include a “Last” and a “First.”
“This is our Last Thanksgiving before the election – we will not have another chance to talk about this together.” (Remember that while you might be ready for the Bombshells, others might be approaching this from the Eggshell side.)
“I’ve changed a lot on the way I think about these issues, and this my first Thanksgiving as a politically active person.”
If you are newly awakened and motivated to share, let people know of your change.
- Mind your P’s & Q’s (or your APP): Ask, Pick, Plan. Ask the person hosting how they feel about conversations about issues facing our country. Check-in with other guests too. You might even make an announcement or send an email ahead of time that clearly sets an expectation, something like, “Hey everyone, Aunt Janice has asked that we avoid political conversations during our gathering this week. Can’t wait to see all of you and catch up on your lives.” If you’re the host, you can determine your own level of tolerance, but do keep your guests’ needs in mind too. If you’re one of those families that love to dig in and argue, Pick a time—and maybe a designated room—for talking about big issues and then let it go. Anyone Want Potatoes? Make the offer for people to talk about politics with you. For Those Who Want It – If there’s anybody who wants to talk about politics? Plan a time and place where it is agreed to have this conversation.
- Stick to the recipe: When you dig into an issue, try to avoid fact-checking others and repeating sound bytes or talking points. Instead, raise the issue that means the most to you and be ready to explain why. Sharing stories and experiences help others invest in your ideas in a way that straight opinions don’t. So spend some time thinking through your beliefs. Then you can say something like, “Safe, clean air and water matter to me because…” Be sure to know what you want to say, and the details you need to help someone else understand your perspective. If the conversations start to overheat, offer to follow-up later. And extend the same courtesy to others—ask why something matters to them. Avoid deep policy debates—the odds are that none of you are policy experts.
- Set Your oven timer: No one likes an overcooked Turkey or stuffing. Making sure you have just the right amount of heat is crucial. So it goes with sharing your opinions and passions. Decide how much it enough. Don’t over-do it. Decide why you are offering your opinion. Consider if it is an “Offramp” or an “On-ramp” The Off Ramp is allowing someone to set aside something they believe. An On-ramp wants someone to take on a new way of thinking. Some people need to off-ramp from Trump. Some are ready to take and On-ramp to more involvement in organizations like Vote Common Good. As tempting as it can be to want to say everything you think about topics that are most important to you. Make your point, and wait for a response. Try the “Say more about that” approach. Allow the other person to keep talking. One of the best ways for all us to realize the limits of our own position is for us to have to keep talking about it. Remember the Leftovers – You If you ever want to ask me why I think the way I do, please let me know, and we can connect later. Can I send you an article?
Finally, whether you chose the eggshells or bombshells approach, remember “It’s Not All About The Turkey,” it is Thanksgiving, so be Thankful. As hard as it might be to see another person’s ideas as a gift for you, know that it is. This is your chance to gain firsthand knowledge and experience with ideas that are so different from your own.
Be generous when hearing other people’s ideas. Remember that most of us are not policy experts, and many of us know what we believe but not always the reasons for those beliefs. Use each moment as a gift. Today is not the day for arguments. Today is Thanksgiving, a day we can understand each other more.