How do we get through Thanksgiving dinner when the people sharing our table don’t share our political values? How do we hold hands, connect in gratitude, and pass Grandma’s stuffing without getting on the subject of the recent election and the political differences that are threatening to tear the country apart? Is there a way to make this day an event that moves us together and enables us to offer signs of peace and the beginnings of understanding to those who stand opposite us on this painful political divide?
We all knew that after Election Day, one group would be disappointed while the other would be celebrating their big win. It happens every four years and this year it certainly is more heated and surprising than in other election cycles. The tension doesn’t have to boil over and make everyone retreat to opposite sides of the dining room table or angrily racing for the door.
Families that agree on everything are rare. It is possible to survive, maybe even enjoy, your time with your family without feeling like you’ve wandered into a cage match with your Uncle Doug and Aunt Carol. Here are some ways you can increase the chances that you’ll walk away from the gathering calm and with a better sense of what your family members mean when they say the things they say.
Listen. I realize the last thing you want to listen to are the reasons why your candidate would have failed and their candidate can make everything perfect, or great again. Resist the temptation to unload about all your candidate’s qualities and the winner’s sure-fire way to wreck everything. Let you relative say what he or she wants to say. You may find you have some common ground.
Empathy. When you’re in a situation with someone who says and does things that inspire anger, take a moment to gather your thoughts and find some way to have empathy for them and try to put yourself in their position. You may find that you have a better understanding of their point of view if you change your view about their place in life. Empathy is more powerful than many people recognize.
By listening to supporters of your opponent, you’re not devaluing your ideals and convictions. Keeping yourself open to learning more about other people who hold opposing view points makes you a better, more thoughtful and mature person. You can’t live your life in an echo chamber. Learning more about the platform of the other party makes you more likely to find some compassion and middle ground.
Take a break. If you feel that you’re not getting anywhere with your relatives, it’s perfectly fine to step back and take a break. Maybe it’s going upstairs to your old bedroom and looking at baby photos or rounding up a favorite cousin and taking a walk through the old neighborhood to avoid cocktail hour conversations. Opting out of heated political discussions while visiting with family is sometimes the most effective way to keeping your sanity. Just because you choose not to engage in a spat doesn’t mean you’re disloyal to your cause or candidate. You don’t have to fight to prove your passion.
Focus on what you do agree with. Even the most contrarian of family members have something they see eye to eye on – focus on that. That helps rebuild bridges and strengthen the bonds you already share. The commonalities may be small, but they are there. Try to be the bigger person in the conversation and focus on what you both are passionate about. It’ll lead to better respect for the other’s position and may open your eyes to issues that you might not have otherwise thought about as being important to large segments of our population.
When you start to feel cornered about your vote, ask questions. Questions are a great way to get the other person to open up. Asking questions shows engagement, respect and curiosity in their interests and motivations. Asking thoughtful, non-aggressive questions puts you on higher ground. And truly listen to their points of view with an open mind. You may be surprised about what you learn.
If all of these don’t work, try to gracefully and smoothly pivot the conversation away from politics and to those great Cubbies, someone’s new baby or which niece got married. Strive to be diplomatic and drive the conversations away from potentially raw or inflammatory topics.
Be true to yourself. If you’ve searched your soul and conclude that your views and those of your family are just too different to accept, that your disappointment is too raw, maybe make your visit short or just skip the whole thing this year. Maybe spend the holiday elsewhere, serving at a homeless shelter or seeing a movie with some like-minded friends.
I know this is a difficult time. Gratitude is a transformative and healing power. I hope you find some moments over the holiday to disconnect from the political tensions and give yourself some peaceful time to reflect on all that you’re thankful for. However, if your side was the defeated, there starts a reactivation of activism.
After you get your fill of your family’s best recipes and wind down from travel, know that this is not the time to sit back and retreat into your comfort zone and echo chamber. Now is the time to pull yourself up from the numbness and despair you’re feeling and decide how you’re going to be a part of meaningful and open-minded political conversations. Everyone has the choice to do and say the positive thing that nurtures peace and understanding. You’ll rise to the challenge to be vigilant about checks, balances and protect the rights of those who need the most defense.