We’ve seen no shortage of self-righteous articles explaining how to tolerate your icky, MAGA relatives this Thanksgiving. There are a lot of ideas out there about how to handle political differences at the holidays.
Some people like the ACLU suggest whipping out the latest wokeness and beating your relatives over the head with it.
Some of our personal favorite Thanksgiving conversation starters:
💬 "My pronouns are…"
💬 "Firing people for being LGBTQ is illegal and Trump asked SCOTUS to change that"
💬 "Who loved Pose season 2?"
💬 "Please pass the pie, and the Equality Act"
— ACLU (@ACLU) November 27, 2019
Some people suggest just avoiding your family altogether. After all, what better way to change a vote than to shame and ostracize the people who love you most?
A lot of advisors are suggesting simply not taking politics to the dinner table at all this season. As I’ve seen the dramatic increase in the number of adults who have let the 2016 elections turn them into whiny diaper babies, I too have found myself telling people to simply leave politics off the table for your holiday gatherings. It seems safer. In the name of a peaceful meal, why not?
But I’m beginning to rethink that. I was recently watching a show in which a snobby, wealthy family were eating a fancy Thanksgiving dinner together. The mood was tense. The conversation shallow. No one seemed to be having a good time. Everyone was buttoned up, walking on eggshells. I’ve seen it happen in real life as well. Censoring ourselves can be a good thing. Obviously there is a time and a place for everything. You certainly don’t tell your boss you hate his collection of cat posters while you’re standing in his office.
However, sometimes self-censoring leads to tension. If we are not free to be ourselves, then all that is left to us is meaningless interaction. The last people we are meant to have meaningless interaction with is our family. Perhaps our interactions are hurtful, angering, joyous or just plain annoying but our families are anything but meaningless. They are where we learn about ourselves, our strengths, our weaknesses. Ultimately our families are our first teachers and our dinner tables are our first battlegrounds.
And that is why I’m rescinding my advice to lay off the politics at the dinner table. You should lay off the obnoxious declarations, the rude judgments of each other and the personal attacks…you should not lay off the politics. A lot of lessons are learned around dinner table discussion. There’s a reason why in nearly every culture on earth our socialization involves food. There is something irreplaceably intimate about breaking bread together.
The family dinner table is where you learn your manners, what foods you like and who is the biggest loudmouth. You learn who tells the best jokes and who talks too much and who drinks too much. Your kids learn how to share their opinions there. Haven’t we all been surprised by our littlest ones sharing a very grown-up opinion at the table once or twice?
We share in these dinner table exercises because despite how tense or intense things get that is the safest place to argue. Your friends might ‘cancel’ you but your family is your family and they stay your family forever…for better or for worse. You can argue and poke at and annoy each other all you want but it won’t change your family status. When we let the conversation drift to politics as we share our meals, we are really engaging in an age-old thought exercise: What if everyone around me doesn’t think the same way I do?
I think we should feel free to argue politics at the dinner table. In fact, when I look around at the number of young people who cannot even tolerate a modicum of dissent or disagreement I think perhaps we’ve let them down by allowing ourselves to abolish politics at the holidays in the name of “peace”. There is no better place to learn that you can vehemently and passionately disagree with someone, hate their politics and even want to spit in their face from time to time and still love that person, and walk away with respect. You can even stew for a few days, but you’ll be back next year. Love is love!
You learn this especially at the holidays. Don’t be afraid of it. This is how we refine our thoughts and opinions (and perhaps even change our minds from time to time) in a safe space. This is how we teach each other that we’re all human beings no matter what one person we voted for in 2016.
Argue at that dinner table. Do it while remembering the people you’re talking to are only people. Enjoy the passion and the chaos and the great party stories you’ll have to tell later. Then get up, tell everyone you love them and go home and observe how little it affected your life to hear a different (even infuriating) opinion at the dinner table.
Happy Thanksgiving, America! Enjoy dinner.