America will come together Thursday to the kitchen or dining room table for a Thanksgiving dinner and a conversation. More than the post-meal indigestion, many diners are worried about the heartburn from potential political conversations. It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it must not be that way if the country is to properly celebrate this holiday.
More than half of Americans say talking about politics with people who disagree is generally stressful, according to a 2018 national survey by Pew Research Center, and about two-thirds of Americans feel anxious about the prospect of talking politics with their family and friends at Thanksgiving.
Community leader Gaylord Swim described what our political conversations around the dinner table should reflect, saying, “This process requires strong advocates, certainly, but it also takes a counter-balancing sense of humility, civility and dialogue.” Those traits are hardly recognizable on the national stage, but they’re certainly what every citizen should be striving for, especially at the Thanksgiving table.
Setting aside the partisan talking points, refusing to engage in literal or virtual shouting matches, and coming to the kitchen table with an attitude of “let’s talk about it,” can elevate issues, even the difficult and divisive issues, in inspiring ways.
A Thanksgiving dinner conversation in the midst of impeachment proceedings, another looming government shutdown and partisan divisiveness will be challenging. But kitchen tables used to serve as the place for people to come together for meaningful and important conversations, and they ought to continue as vehicles for discussion on principles, policies and the future of the country. John Adams suggested the real revolution in early America began around the kitchen table.
Kitchen tables used to serve as the place for people to come together for meaningful and important conversations, and they ought to continue as vehicles for discussion on principles, policies and the future of the country.
It is time to come to the table and rediscover the principles that unite the country. Here are a few suggestions for positive Thanksgiving table talk:
1. Listen first.
Really listening is more than being quiet while brewing up the next zinger to lob into the conversation.
2. Phrase opinions in the form of a question.
(What do you think about this principle/policy? Do you think this would help solve the problem?)
3. Avoid personal judgments, especially about people or their motives.
(Congressman X is an idiot. Anyone who votes for that candidate must be horrible.)
4. Avoid instant certainty.
Don’t jump to conclusions or assume a headline is the whole story. Don’t reflexively dismiss another person’s comment.
5. Find common ground.
Build bridges instead of driving wedges.
6. Acknowledge where others are coming from.
Seek to understand why they believe something, especially if you disagree with them.
7. Choose respect over contempt.
8. Remember no one has ever been badgered into changing their opinion on politics.
If disagreement is inevitable, find a way to disagree better.
9. Ask good questions.
Then prove you are interested in other’s opinions by asking meaningful follow-up questions.
10. Don’t take the last piece of pie.
It also would be wise and beneficial to show friends, family, children, grandchildren and the rest of the world that America is not on the verge of a civil war but on the verge of a civil debate. The depth of our dialogue, the civility of our communication, and a better path to solving problems is what should be on display at the table this week.
We are most thankful for those who are willing to come to the table, for those who are willing to talk about where we are as a nation, for those who recognize the principles that enable the nation to thrive and prosper and for those who talk about tough issues in productive ways.