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Politics at Thanksgiving: How to Keep It Civil with Family Members Who Have Different Political Views

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family members with different political views

The past few years have become more politically divisive than ever before in modern history. While the holidays have always been a time to walk on eggshells around family members you disagree with, this year more than ever has the potential to make sparks fly over the Thanksgiving turkey. Talks that used to be just awkward have the potential to become escalated to unacceptable levels of homophobia, racism, or bigotry.

While sometimes your best option is muting or blocking someone on Facebook or cutting off contact altogether, you can’t really ignore a divisive uncle when he’s invited over for the holidays. Especially with the recent presidential election results, everyone on both sides of the aisle is certain to have opinions they feel they need to share.

If you must spend time with unsavory relatives during the holidays, here are some techniques to keep things civil for the sake of the family members who invited everyone to the table.

Avoidance

Depending on how many people were invited to the dinner, you can try your best to avoid a confrontational family member by choosing to sit at the opposite end of the table. Try to choose a spot in the room further from that person so you don’t have to engage in the conversation if they take it to a political place. Once you sit down for the meal, try to have buffer seats between you and choose another family member you feel comfortable talking to as your conversation partner for the evening.

Excusing Yourself

If the divisive individual catches your eye and starts to make conversation, it’s the perfect time to excuse yourself to refresh your glass of wine or conveniently use the restroom. When you walk away, you get the chance to recenter yourself and hopefully give the conversation time to dissipate.

Redirection

When you’re asked a direct question you feel uncomfortable answering, politely decline, and use this opportunity while you’re in control of the conversation to ask a different question of the table. Safe questions or topics to change to include:

  • Did you see my niece got accepted to college with a full scholarship? I always knew she’d go far. She’s so bright!
  • Whoever cooked this turkey did an excellent job. I always look forward to this meal! And I’m really excited about that pie Uncle Chris brought over. I’ll have to save room!
  • Is anyone else caught up on the latest episode of Bob’s Burgers? I always love their holiday episodes.
  • So my dog did the funniest thing this morning. You’ll never believe it!

Sharing stories about pets is always a safe bet; there’s a good chance that the next person will share another story about their own pet and the conversation will stay in a safe zone longer.

Refusal

Sometimes instead of asking your opinion on a controversial issue, a problem relative will just announce something extremely offensive. In those situations, it’s not enough to just deflect. You have to acknowledge the statement and clearly state that it’s not a proper conversation for the table. Don’t engage them and try to debate; it’s what they want and it will only end poorly since people who start conversations this way aren’t looking to have a healthy conversation with an open dialogue.

Openly standing up to – without engaging – these offensive statements is extremely important. If your uncle says something homophobic and no one says anything, your niece who isn’t out yet will think that no one in the family cares for them or values their identity.

If you’re known as the one with strictly opposing views from other family members, designating one of the neutral family members to police the conversation may be the best choice. If your mother invited everyone together, have a talk with her beforehand to ask if she can step in if someone says something offensive. Having the natural peacekeeper monitor the conversation can help you put out fires rather than fanning the flame.

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Are you usually the one in charge of keeping the peace? Do you normally have to deal with political conversations or political arguments at the Thanksgiving dinner table? What techniques have you used to make sure the conversation stays on track?

Sarah Margaret Henry

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