Avoidance or Confrontation: Is there another way to have an enjoyable Thanksgiving?


With Thanksgiving falling just two weeks after the election results came in, it’s hard to imagine the presidential race not becoming a topic—and potentially explosive focal point—during the holiday. Even if everyone around the table voted for the same person, this topic may distract everyone from the benefits of being together.

For those who are dreading talking to relatives and friends (or invited strangers) about the election, here are a few options beyond confrontation or its equally unhealthy counterpart, avoidance.

Start with chesed (kindness).

Before a word is spoken, do a kind act. Establish yourself as a caring person. Surprise those who expect that you are a crazy, self-centered, or deluded supporter of X. Bring a gift, write a note, offer to help. Most important, smile. Allow yourself to feel generous and sincere.

Set an intention to overcome the divides.

What is important to you about being with these people? It’s not likely to be arguing over politics. Instead, remember that there was, is and always will be something else besides politics. Go to a movie. Play games. Sing. Cook together. Wash the dishes with music in the background (remember “The Big Chill”?) Prepare to have fun, to enjoy being together, and to share something you have in common.

Tell (and listen to) stories.

Have you ever enjoyed “The Moth” or StoryCorps? Everyone has a story. Maybe you’ve heard Uncle Bill’s stories over and over, but perhaps there’s a back story you haven’t heard before. Thanksgiving can be a time for learning family history or going beneath the usual chit-chat to find out what people really care about.

Set groundrules, if necessary.

Ok, the latest news continues to bombard us and many of us need an outlet for our fears. Yet some of you might agree to a moratorium on political conversation. If that’s not going to happen, then stick to discussing issues, not attacking candidates (or voters). And if everyone is comfortable talking about the election, then establish some basic rules of respecting others, using “I” statements instead of “you” accusations, not interrupting. Don’t ask a question when you know the answer will make you angry!

I suggest approaching people individually in advance to establish common ground. Whatever you can agree to will help you and everyone else feel more comfortable.

Practice patience.

When confronted with something unpleasant, be prepared to sit quietly without responding right away. A relative makes an offensive remark. Someone else tries to provoke you. Someone else shares what they believe is an innocent observation. Be prepared with your response: attentive listening. Not listening with one ear while preparing your counter argument. Try not to interrupt, but to wait with attention, and take time to absorb what you’ve heard. And remember the ground rules you agreed to.

Practice curiosity.

When engaging with someone who you find objectionable, or simply has a different view of life than you do, curiosity is a way to demonstrate good faith. “I’m curious about…” is a welcoming way to ask about a position or an experience that you don’t understand. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps you will hear something that you don’t expect.

Make your purpose invitation, not persuasion.

Stating the obvious…

1.    Watch the alcohol consumption. Have an escape plan, whether you’re drunk or Aunt Sally is drunk.

2.    If you are the person who is determined to share your opinions and to persuade your deluded, crazy, self-centered family members that they are wrong, think twice!

We need each other for the long haul. If we are to overcome the hatred and polarization and scapegoating that this campaign has fostered and that will surely continue, it’s important that we maintain existing caring relationships with those who think differently.

Remind yourself what is most important to you about Thanksgiving.

Is it being with people you rarely get to see? Creating memories for the future? Helping your children get to know their relatives better?

Keep focused on the good that you hope to happen.

And most of all, this Thanksgiving, cultivate gratitude. That is the richest soil for growing healthy connections.

Posted on November 21, 2016 .