How to Prevent Politics From Derailing Your Holiday Dinner
Getting the family together for holiday dinner can be fun and festive—but it can also be fraught with tension. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, chances are, you’ll find yourself at odds with the views held by some (or all!) of your family members over the holidays. These political differences can actually strain your relationships to the point that you begin to dread—or even avoid—getting together for the annual holiday dinner. Before things reach that stage, try these simple strategies for defusing political tensions at the holiday dinner table—and even beyond.
1. Focus on the reason you’re together.
Don’t lose the sight of the reason why the family has come together for holiday dinner. You’re here to party, not to persuade. If a political argument erupts, try reiterating the need for gratitude and celebration: it’s not every day you’re surrounded by people who share not only a common history, but also love for each other—and love doesn’t always require you to be in agreement.
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2. Debates get heated, but discussions should stay warm.
When a holiday dinner conversation gets political, learn how to convey your dissent without conveying disrespect. Try doing this by asking questions rather then making assertions: Intelligent, respectful inquiries are what differentiate a warm discussion from a heated debate. In a debate, the tone is aggressive—usually a defensive reaction. A debater isn’t necessary evil or wrong: more likely, they’re scared of being verbally assaulted—or worse, invalidated.
3. Let curiosity replace curses.
Passion and politeness are not mutually exclusive—even when politics are concerned. You will have to go deep inside your beautiful, loving caring heart, and with all the genuine effort you can muster, find the desire to understand—and not lecture—the person you’re disagreeing with. Respond with genuine, respectful curiosity every time you’re faced with an opinion that you don’t share.
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4. Practice humility.
Have the humility to recognize that political opinions are not facts, and facts make sense to us based on our opinions. No matter how educated and rational you might be—and regardless of which side of the political spectrum you sit or which causes you’re fighting for—it’s important to remember that we can never know all of the facts all of the time. Facts join together to make a pattern based on our pre-existing beliefs, and this is true not only for your radical activist uncle, but for you as well. Intellectual humility will not only make you feel less defensive, but will also make you a true student of life. It is only certainty of self–righteousness that begets violence in words and actions.
5. Love doesn’t mean submission to your values.
Love doesn’t require you to see eye-to-eye in every aspect of life. In fact, demanding absolute compatibility of political views will only alienate others—even the potential allies of your cause. As the award-winner writer Alain de Botton points out, compatibility should be the consequence of love, and not always its pre-requisite.
6. Remember that stupidity is not a crime.
Even if someone shares an uneducated opinion, it doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to express that opinion. One of the ironies of living in a free country is that it guarantees our right to be stupid: In fact, it’s essential to the working of democracy that we allow dissenting voices to be heard, no matter how absurd those voices may seem to us.
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7. Examine your own lack of empathy.
It’s difficult to put yourself in someone else’s shoes—let alone walk a mile in them—when your own political views are narrow and rigid. When having a conversation with someone whose perspective runs completely counter to your own, it’s easy to dismiss their arguments as evil and bigoted. It’s also intellectually lazy and counterproductive on your part. Instead, try to show a genuine interest in understanding their hopes and fears. You don’t have to agree with your aunt’s views on abortion, but you can at least empathize with the reasons she feels so strongly about the issue.
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8. When all else fails, run interference.
If all else fails and World War III seems inevitable, practice avoidance and diversion. Reroute the heated political conversation along a safer course, changing the topic to the weather, your health, gardening, or your love for puppies. It might be a bitter pill to swallow, but it can be worth the effort if it helps keep the peace with the ones we love.
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