This year has been a political firestorm. Vicious debates about travel bans, Dreamers and nuclear missiles spew from every screen in our lives.
It’s healthy to discuss our differing political viewpoints. But not at the Thanksgiving table.
Politics are, by definition, polarizing. People naturally separate into divergent camps. Sometimes those sides can be pleasant and respectful. Other times they devolve into fistfights.
Politics are also a form of sanctioned arguing. Especially in this contentious atmosphere, they seem to give approval for uproarious disagreements, including name-calling and other degrading behaviors.
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is a day devoted to family togetherness. It’s a time to celebrate our clan and each member it enfolds.
Families comprise unique individuals, each with their own personalities, quirks, histories and interests. The larger they are, the more personalities they’re forced to accommodate. Embracing each member can sometimes require patience, acceptance and humor.
In addition, Thanksgiving takes a huge effort to pull off every year. Some folks have purchased bags full of food and spent weeks making side dishes and cleaning their homes. Others have braved hours in the car or airport traveling to see those they love. The very last thing they want to happen is to have an argument erupt while they’re eating stuffing. Or hear insults hurled across the centerpiece.
It only takes one person to ruin the meal. We already know who it’s most likely to be. It’s the member who obsesses about politics and directs every conversation toward their pet peeve. Their opinion is the only right one; they have no trouble speaking their mind. Backing down is never an option. And too much alcohol only fans the political flame.
The result? Get-togethers are fraught with tension. Guests walk on eggshells, tiptoeing around conflict as best they can. Inevitably two members get into a conflict and a shouting match ensues. I’ve even heard of families who called in the police to break things up.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.
Strategies to avoid talking politics:
▪ Identify who’s most likely to cause problems. Assign someone to engage with him/her, keep him/her occupied
▪ Limit alcohol
▪ Out talk the talker — keep the conversation animated and focused on safe topics (So, Chad, how is that motorcycle restoration project coming?)
▪ If necessary, have one person (preferably someone with some pull in the family) inform the perpetrator to keep the lid on political views
What to do if somebody insists on talking politics?
▪ Sweetly, unobtrusively change the subject. (“This is baby Lauren’s first Thanksgiving. Don’t you think she’s doing great?”)
▪ Sweetly, jokingly say, “Let’s have a pleasant time together. Politics are off the table.”
▪ More forcefully say, “Hey, guys. The rest of us are uncomfortable with this discussion. Let’s talk about something else.”
▪ Leave the room. Encourage others to follow suit.
▪ If need be, leave the event. Rather than argue — or call in the police — take your coat and empty salad bowl and graciously vacate the premises. Hopefully, agitators get the message and behave themselves at the next gathering.