Political Survival: How to Have Thanksgiving With Your Family

These days it feels like even our most cherished family traditions are under attack.
Political Survival: How to Have Thanksgiving With Your Family - News


Thanksgiving 2011 by anjanettew CC BY-SA 2.0 flickr.com

How can we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and enjoy each other’s company, when no matter how the midterm elections turn out, someone is going to be unhappy? Here are a few options to consider. Like all good researchers, I have listed positives and negatives for each option to help you make an informed choice.

Option 1. Agree not to talk politics. At all.

  • Upside: You’re far less likely to have arguments and genuine conflict at the table.
  • Downside: The dinner table conversation may put you to sleep faster than the tryptophan in the turkey. Plus, your children will be denied the opportunity to see someone tell you you’re wrong and get away with it.

Option 2. Set ground rules. Things like ‘no personal attacks, no interrupting, no banging on the table’. If necessary, enforce the rules with a Nerf ball.

  • Upside: The discussion will remain more civil and restrained, giving each family member the chance to express his or her opinions in a quiet, thoughtful manner.
  • Downside: What fun is that?

Option 3. Appoint a referee. This is a great job for the kids. Give each referee a sign that says STOP on one side and GO on the other, so he or she can direct the conversation and get Uncle Ralph to let someone else talk.

  • Upside: The kids will be engaged in the conversation and will be listening carefully when not convulsed with giggles.
  • Downside: see ‘Upside’

Option 4. Use a talking stick. What better time to adopt a Native American tradition than Thanksgiving? It’s simple: only the person holding the stick may speak.

  • Upside: Each speaker will be heard, although not necessarily respected.
  • Downside: Struggles for control of the talking stick may become violent.

Still unsure what to do?
Try this instead: remember that these are (with perhaps one or two exceptions) people with whom you have shared many life experiences, and whom you love. Accept that they have different views, even if you cannot for the life of you understand how they can possibly believe what they do. Give them credit for as much judgment and insight as you have. Anticipate disagreement, not open conflict. If things get tense, steer the conversation back to common ground with fond memories such as “Remember when Johnny tried to drown the neighbor’s cat?” Talk about takeaways for the children at the table. What do you hope they’ll remember in 20 years from today’s Thanksgiving?

And if all else fails, try cranberry daiquiris.