How Will Thanksgiving Be Different This Year?
When I told my daughter about the topic of this blog post, she asked me why people would discuss politics at Thanksgiving. As a family we tend to avoid conflict at the dinner table. But I’ve talked to enough people to know that’s not the case for everyone. Even if your family doesn’t talk politics at Thanksgiving, keep reading. It’s bound to come up as a topic sometime.
The presidential election is coming and the national conversation is still polarized. For many families that means uncertainty about what to talk about around the family dinner table at Thanksgiving. For some it may even change the guest list.
What have we learned over the last 4 years that can help the conversation at our Thanksgiving tables bring us closer rather than furthering separation by being entrenched in our already established positions?
Scripture as a Starting Point
Given this is a space to explore where faith meets life to help families thrive, what does Scripture have to say about this situation? The place I like to start is our agreement that we are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). All of us. Period. Not just those who agree with us. So what does that have to do with Thanksgiving?
I don’t want to make assumptions, but I have vivid memories of stories from 4 years ago about the tension around Thanksgiving dinner tables. Even when we belong to the same family, chances are we don’t see eye to eye on all things. Some may prefer to keep political opinions private. Others, however, feel that it’s important to bring everyone to the right way of thinking. Of course the right way exactly matches that person’s personal point of view.
Notice I’m not mentioning sides. Across the political spectrum there are those who are private about their positions and those who are public. And you can find persons on all sides of a given position who are certain they are right, and anyone who disagrees is wrong. You may have one or more of these types sitting around your Thanksgiving table with varying degrees of intensity, which could make for an interesting holiday celebration. So let’s talk about some things that might keep Thanksgiving focused on your connection as family.
Establish Some Ground Rules
The first thing I find helpful is establishing some ground rules. Instead of pretending that we all agree about all things, be bold and name the “elephant” in the room. Then establish boundaries to affirm the gathering as a place of respect and connection. At my house when we venture into politically charged topics, we agree to be specific with our statements; to avoid generalizing behaviors to an entire group of people; and to avoid name-calling. You may have things to add to this list. We also try to structure our conversation in a way that affirms we are all created in the image of God.
Next, stay curious. Wonder about the why and ask good clarifying questions. Even with family members I think I know very well, it’s not always safe to assume that I know what labels and terms mean to them. So instead of assuming I know, I ask (in a curious tone of voice – tone is critical), “Help me understand what _______________ means to you?” If necessary, go back to the boundaries agreement and remember to be specific, avoid name-calling, and try not to express judgment in the way the question is asked or the story is told.
As I prepare for post-election conversation around the Thanksgiving table, I’m also trying to get curious about what fuels the passion for a particular topic. Again, curious – without expressing judgment in the way the question is asked: “What is it about this situation that frightens you?” Or “What is it about this situation that makes you angry?” Or “Given the situation, what are you concerned you aren’t going to be able to achieve?”
Asking the curious question is a great start. And listening with empathy is critical. Check out Let’s Talk About Empathy for a deeper dive into why empathy is so critical in our relationships. Sometimes we have to be able to tolerate strong emotions to get to deeper meaning and deeper connection. We have a few weeks to practice, so start by getting curious. Practice asking curious questions. And practice listening as a pathway to understanding and connection. Leave a comment to let us know how it goes.