The dinner table is set. Will it be a feast of family-ness or an ideological battleground? Does the microcosm of the home really have to mimic the dysfunction of the macrocosm of society? Here’s my take and some tips on making the best, instead of the worst of it.
There are only two sorts of families where holiday reunions don’t turn sour on politics — ones that don’t care about politics and ones that are reasonable and mature. Some can be both. Assuming your dining room may not be filled to the gizzards with either state of affairs, let’s try a few fixings. The worst that can happen is a social experiment gone wrong, or perhaps a food fight that would have happened anyways.
Call not just for a truce, but acceptance
If someone has their opinion-cannon loaded and primed, preempt them with a question, something like, “If I was gay, would you still love me? If I was Buddhist, would right now be the appropriate time to convince me to accept Christ as my personal savior? Would I be welcome to join in a toast of gratitude wearing a Red Sox Jersey (or alternatively, Yankees, depending on the clan affiliation)? Can you be happy knowing I probably voted for someone you don’t believe in?”
Of course, there are those who can’t answer yes to most or any of those sorts of questions. It’s not that they don’t share your thoughts or lifestyle, but outright think you are going to hell, you worship the devil, and anyone leading the party of your political affiliation is the anti-Christ. Everything is a full measure of the judgment of good and evil, a fruit that once rotten rarely can be brought back to the table.
Either they or you don’t belong in the same family. Either find a new family, or if they are the exception, replace them with some random homeless guy, someone more likely to be grateful for company, warmth, and food, rather than be obsessed with antagonism toward one’s own purported loved ones.
Bite your tongue
There’s usually no reason to bring up anything that could cause controversy, but you’re only half the equation. If other people want to talk smack, they have a certain liberty to do so, just not license. Assuming good faith that they are simply blowing off steam at each other and not necessarily goading you on is a good practice, even when it’s not true.
Be reconciliatory without self-efacement
If they don’t run out of steam after a while, you can always take the higher road, interjecting something like, “I understand and accept that you feel or think the way you do. And I can respect your right to it as long as you respect my right to not agree or feel the same way. I know you may be concerned about my soul, my well-being, or my impact on others by my choices and vote. It may really bother you, but in the end I have to follow my own conscience even if you do your best to convince me what is best for me.”
And to add whipped cream to the pumpkin pie, “Today, I choose to be thankful for you, not just for the good things and things I like, but for all of you, even those things that drive me nuts. Today, I want you to be thankful for me, even if I am not perfect or live up to your expectations or hopes. Today, let’s just choose to be thankful. There are enough tomorrows to worry about tomorrow.”
If at first you don’t succeed, call them on it
If they go on and on, it might just be the pre-Turkey Bowl beers talking. But at some point, you know they are saying things deliberately in earshot, or even directed at you repeatedly. Maybe they are gloating over their superiority by having voted for the winner, or blaming you personally for all that is wrong in America by supporting the wrong man or the wrong public policies. They are goading you on, perhaps prodding with hurtful jabs under the wearing-thin pretense of humor. But at some point it becomes undeniable they are riding you like a turkey without a saddle. Don’t take it. Tolerance of such things quickly becomes consent.
“You’re being an ass” is a good start.
But make it clear what you mean. “I’m starting to become angry right now, not because of anything you are saying, but because it is obvious you are saying it to make me upset or start an argument. That offends me more than anything you can say. I don’t care if you are right or I am wrong. This isn’t the time or place for that. You can try to say I am over-reacting, but you don’t have to do this and can show some respect for my feelings. At this point, I don’t find it funny, and the sooner we drop what pushes us apart, the sooner we can focus on being together. Capiche?”
You can even say you are disappointed if it doesn’t come off as a gravy-boat of guilt. The fine line to be walked is between standing up for oneself and being manipulative or embarrassing to the other person.
And if done and taken well, the moment of tension from this will likely subside more quickly than being sucked into an argument. And that’s the best advice of all — don’t become part of the argument. The moment you rebut their talking points, you become part of the discord.
And not playing that game is the maturity required to make any get-together more amicable, even if people are passionate about politics and other differences.