We often think of Thanksgiving as a time when we relax with family and friends, stuff ourselves silly — and maybe apologize for burning the casserole. But aside from all the revelry, Thanksgiving can also bring uncomfortable political conversations.
Thanksgiving is truly a time when we’re forced out of our filter bubbles. Suddenly we find ourselves passing the mashed potatoes to Uncle Tom, a guy whose wacky Facebook posts we hid months ago — and hoo boy, he just brought up his take on the latest immigration news.
While many of us have a tendency to surround ourselves with like-minded people and consume biased news the other 364 days of the year, suddenly, there’s no algorithm ensuring we confront only views we already agree with.
Online, political polarization and media bias fuels heated debates or worse. But navigating these conversations in real life is a different story. We don’t want heated debates and inflated emotions to ruin dessert. How can we handle holiday political talk with grace and ease?
Here are a few suggestions to navigate any polarized dinner table discussions:
Always assume good intentions and exhibit genuine curiosity towards another person’s views. In politics, it can be easy to believe the “other side” is downright evil and coming from a place of hatred or ill will. But the majority of people on the both Left and Right genuinely want Americans to live free, happy, and healthy lives. They simply differ on the best way to get there. Keep that in mind, even as you disagree.
Ask to listen, not to respond. The point of discourse is to understand your interlocutor’s perspective, not to prove them wrong, convince or persuade. So don’t debate, discuss. Ask thoughtful questions, inspired by whatever honest curiosity you have.
Avoid escalating into nasty territory. No insults or name-calling (about the person you’re talking to or political figures they like). And don’t overgeneralize, as no one likes to be pigeonholed. Instead, appreciate the nuances of the discussion.
Familiarize yourself with opposing perspectives beforehand. AllSides offers unbiased news, a Balanced Dictionary, and tools for civil discourse to help you understand and appreciate political issues from multiple perspectives.
Notice areas where you agree. Appreciating common ground can help to neutralize a polarized discussion. It reminds us that at the end of the day, we’re more alike than different.
AllSides’ partner organization, Living Room Conversations, has put together a helpful holiday conversation guide that goes into even further detail.
Holiday political discussions don’t have to make our hearts race. Instead, we can think of them as a welcome practice in civil discourse — as an opportunity to connect, appreciate, and learn. It’s something our country desperately needs right now.