Happy early Thanksgiving! Last year I remember thinking how the election might make those turkey dinners more tense. I didn’t think it possible, but this year seems to have even more potential for things to get heated. Trump, gun control, and sexual assault allegations are all hot-button topics right now, and even turning on the football game to drown out the political chatter is bound to add more fuel to the fire and stir up another debate about kneeling during the anthem.
These are all important topics that should be discussed, and if your family and friends can do so in a civilized, respectful manner, I applaud you. But I know many folks who have very different ideologies to their loved ones, and they often dread getting into a debate over the dinner table at holiday gatherings. With that in mind, here are my tips for keeping your cool this Thanksgiving.
If You’re Hosting:
Make it clear that every single guest is welcome and valued, and you expect them to be treated with respect. If someone has a problem with you inviting, say, your cousin’s gay partner, they can opt to not attend. If they do attend, however, they must be polite.
Consider telling guests that there will be no political discussion at the dinner table. It’s a bit like telling guests to leave their smartphones in a basket by the front door: a minor inconvenience to some, but ultimately best for the greater good. Instead, focus on fostering connections over shared values. One woman I know starts the meal by telling each guest why she is thankful for them.
Keep things light. Board games are a fun way to break the ice and keep everyone entertained. Some families watch the same holiday film every year, or play a game of flag football. My friend’s granddaughter likes to host her own version of “Cupcake Wars” using random ingredients and Thanksgiving leftovers. People are usually too distracted to be controversial when they’re having fun.
Enlist helpers. Who are those lovely people in your inner circle who are so wonderful at neutralizing intense conversations and restoring peace and order? Ask for their help in distracting guests who might be problematic. Reward them with a bottle of nice wine or a tray of brownies.
If You’re Attending:
Remind yourself that you are a guest in someone’s home. Be respectful to your host and your fellow guests, even if it means gritting your teeth. If you can’t behave, or if the anxiety about being in a room with people with views so diametrically opposite to your own is too great, send your regrets.
Don’t take the bait. People may provoke you; you can’t control that. What you can control is your response. Practice saying, “It’s Thanksgiving. Let’s save that debate for another day.”
Debate with grace. If you do get pulled into a debate, don’t resort to name-calling. I do think it’s important for people on different sides of an issue to come together and learn a bit more about the other viewpoint; it’s just difficult to do that without getting angry. Try to stay calm, listen politely, and share your experiences without sounding accusatory. And if all else fails, nod and excuse yourself to go check on Aunt Linda’s pumpkin pie.
Find your buffer. There may be people who drag you down, but there’s also probably at least one person who is in your corner. Spend time around the people that make you feel good, even if they’re all sitting at the kids’ table.