General Business

Five Ways to Keep Peace at the Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving, coming on the heels of the divisive midterm elections, is fraught for many families gathering around the holiday dinner table. With political discussions still at a fever pitch online and through social media, this year might be even more challenging than in the past.

William FitzGerald, associate professor of English at Rutgers University-Camden, a scholar of rhetoric who discusses civility and argument, shares tips about how to navigate the holiday season in a divided political culture.

Here is what FitzGerald – who has had to learn what to say and not say himself – says is the secret to enjoy a non-political Turkey Day:

Remember why you are there:

To celebrate our blessings as individuals and as a nation despite our differences of opinion. What unites us is greater than what divides us. It is helpful to remember, too, that Thanksgiving is a civic holiday. It is a call to come together as a nation in gratitude, an official day off from partisan politics.

Are you spoiling for a fight?

Ahead of time, reflect on and decide what you want. Are you spoiling for a fight, even if it means spoiling the holiday for both hosts and guests? If you are the host, how do you wish to be hospitable and welcoming? If you are a guest, what does it mean to gracious in someone’s home? Someone will probably provoke you, intentionally or otherwise, so it is wise to be prepared.

Look for common ground:

Speak about the election in terms of shared hopes and interests rather than identity politics. Express common places such as being thankful the election is behind us for a while; perhaps the new congress/governor will be successful.

Resist Snark:

Refrain from gloating (if your candidate won) or scapegoating (if your candidate lost). Above all, do not blame your relatives for things politicians have done or demand that they take responsibility for a particular policy. The Thanksgiving table is not an extension of the comment section of your favorite blog or news outlet.

Avoid Speechmaking:

Because politics will come up, ask questions; avoid speechmaking. Take an active interest in what others think rather than mount counter-arguments (especially “what about…?” retorts). This strategy can defuse tense situations when someone wants to start an argument.

Those who want to avoid politics altogether can discuss kids, travel, favorite shows and movies, and special family moments. Prepare ahead for a positive experience.

“There’s nothing foolproof here,” says FitzGerald. “But good will and focus on the reasons, personal and civic, that bring us together for this holiday will give us reason to be thankful and not just because the day is over.’’

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