How to Keep Your Thanksgiving Scream Free

There are an awful lot of high-octane issues in the news lately. Unfortunately, the world is a very polarized place these days. Although we at Downtime Cocktails always encourage civil political discourse and meaningful debate, big gatherings of friends and family can often lead to highly charged and sometimes hurtful exchanges fueled by politics.

This (excerpted) article, written in 2022 by Chris Westfall at 
Forbes, is a well-considered piece that may offer you a roadmap for keeping this year's debate lively, but not lethal.

Family Matters: How To Avoid Talking Politics Over Thanksgiving Dinner, In 5 Steps 

One in five voters says political disagreements have hurt their relationships with friends or family, according to a [2022] poll from The New York Times and Sienna College. And in a world where work/life balance is now just life, understanding how to communicate around sensitive political issues can provide vital guidance on how to address touchy subjects at work. Here’s why: Pew Research reports that nearly half of all Americans have stopped talking about politics with someone, as a result of something they said, either in person or online. Not surprising, when 85% of American voters feel misunderstood by voters on the other side. What happens when the “other side” is really just Uncle Tim from Topeka, sharing his polarizing opinions over mashed potatoes and pie? Since rudeness is on the rise, discussion without disagreement just might be the Thanksgiving recipe that every family needs.

Here are 5 ways to keep your Thanksgiving table civil this year:

1. Reframe and Redirect - a simple agreement can help to shift perspectives, and redirect potential conflict. Can we agree not to talk about politics at dinner? Come together as a family and share beforehand that the dinner table is a safe space, and gain agreement so that there’s no misunderstanding. Consider topics that make more sense: what you are grateful for, what you appreciate most in your career and in other people, and what you value (outside of politically-charged issues) most in life. Isn’t there enough to discuss without debating election results for dessert?

2. Keep Calm and Carry On - What happens when Uncle Tim violates the prime directive, and brings politics into the conversation? Robert Carini is a sociologist at the University of Louisville. He suggests that if a friend or relative brings up politics just to get a reaction, remain calm. “One way to win an argument is to make someone lose it,” Carini tells the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Families are way too good at pushing people’s buttons. So don't let them." You can always choose how you react, even when your button is pushed. That pause is always possible, even at holiday gatherings.

3. Don’t Try to Win - Suzanne Degges-White, Chair of the Department of Counseling at Northern Illinois University, reminds us that attacking someone’s favorite sports team is not a battle you will ever win. So why try with someone’s political point of view? “You need to keep the conversation only about individual issues,” she says, pointing to an emotional and personal context to frame the conversation. “If you want people to see things from your side you need to connect it to a person’s emotions. For example, with the issue of equal pay for women — people are more likely to connect to the issue if you bring it down to their level. Say something like, ‘Now how would you feel if your daughter worked just as hard as a man in her office but was paid much less?’” Yet an even-handed approach will not guarantee an even-handed response. Dr. Vaile Wright, a researcher at the American Psychological Association, says, “Even if you are the best communicator in the world, you still may not get the outcome you want.” Are you ok with that? How bad do you need to win this one? If your answer is anything other than, “not at all”, pump the brakes on the political convo, and pass the gravy instead.

4. Avoid Labels and Characterizations - When you receive a response to your individually focused questions, avoid labeling the conversation or the response. “I would expect that kind of narrow-minded reply, coming from you,” isn’t going to strengthen your relationship. “Most socialists/uneducated fools/racists/Boomers would respond like that, I see your point.” Yikes - full stop. Remaining neutral is the key, even when confronted with what might seem like outrageous beliefs and viewpoints. Are you there to fix Uncle Tim, or find out more about his point of view? If the answer is the former, and you can’t remain neutral about the latter, it’s time to change the topic of conversation.

5. Curious, Not Furious - Braver Angels is a New York-based organization dedicated to bridging the political divide in this country. Mónica Guzmán, author of I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times, shares in the Braver Angels podcast that curiosity is the key. She says that the political divide has become “a funhouse mirror” - with distortion and exaggeration at its core. “When you are judgmental, you can’t be curious,” she notes, “and when you are curious, you can’t be judgmental.” The only way to navigate these difficult conversations is through a detached spirit of curiosity, where learning is more important than fixing.

Of course, if things do get out of hand, there's always one surefire to bring everyone's temperature back down: Crack open a bottle of Batch 22, fill glasses, raise them, and repeat the toast, "Let's all agree to disagree. Cheers!"