4 Tips on Talking Politics This Thanksgiving

Written by Brian G.


Following one the most derisive and negative presidential elections in history – most likely the worst in our lifetimes – we now come together to enjoy a meal together. The exit poll data on age and gender might suggest we are in for some political commentary at the Thanksgiving table. Will we keep it civil or will the mashed potatoes end up on someone’s head? Below are my thoughts on practicing civil political discourse.

#1 Know your goal.

“Thank you so very much for presenting the counterpoint to my closely held belief. I think I see things your way now.” Said no one ever. You know you are right. They know they are right. So who’s right? The answer is no one. And everyone. Before you respond or enter the fray unprovoked, think of your goal. If your goal is to change minds, you have already lost and have entered dangerous territory. Maybe your goal is to not talk politics. Change the subject. But perhaps your goal should be to understand. Is your relative a racist, like actually? Maybe but probably not overtly (we are all blind to our own prejudices). So why do they believe the things they believe? Someone’s beliefs stem directly from their perspective. The only way to know is to try to understand their perspective.

#2 Know the difference between facts and beliefs.

Many kinds of chocolate cake have high amounts sugar and fat per serving. Chocolate cake will make you fat. One of those is a fact and one of them is a belief. The danger is when a belief is masquerading as a fact. It sounds benign but what if we are talking about immigrant labor leading to the decline of living wage jobs? Not so benign there. I’d need to see the facts. The crux here is knowing what you’re up against. If you are considering facts maybe the conversation can be constructive. Perhaps quickly paced technological advancements have led to the decline of living wage jobs. But if you are up against a belief, you are trudging up a mountain in a snow storm. Let’s stick to considering each other’s perspectives rather than trying to pry each other out of our beliefs.

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#3 Consider the individual.

The left-wing agenda is ruining this country by taking away our freedoms. The right-wing is conspiring to benefit the greedy through inequality. One of those statements probably made your blood pressure rise. You’ve been called out. This aggression will not stand! But let’s consider for a moment that there is no such thing as “wing” people. Is your relative a member of a “wing”? Or are they an individual? Partisan and some non-partisan media has been spectacularly successful at making you a member of a group of thinkers. Groups of thinkers are scary and stupid. Don’t be a group thinker. Let’s consider each other as individuals and we’ll be better for it.

#4 Avoid the deep divide.

Abortion. Gay marriage. A Muslim registry. If you tread here you might get muddy and bloody. It’s okay to avoid topics where there is no possibility of a middle ground. If you are gay or a woman or a Muslim you probably have a strong perspective – which is not wrong, obviously. Same if you have strong religious beliefs. But let’s revisit Tip #1. What do you hope to accomplish? If you are trying to change minds, you may be in for an unpleasant conversation. There’s a fork in the road here. I’m not saying you shouldn’t respond if you feel it’s necessary but perhaps it’s a short comment on not agreeing, instead of a drawn-out rant. Sometimes avoiding the deep divide takes preparation. For example, kids are present so you comment in private to your relative that they should respect you and your family not to dive in those waters. And leave before the heavy drinking begins.

This is not an all-inclusive list. It is based on my own experiences talking with people that have diverse political viewpoints. I have found if these tips are taken in tandem I come away with my own beliefs strengthened and a better understanding of the person sitting across from me. What are your tips for talking politics with friends and family?