26 November 2015

My Recommendations for Your Thanksgiving Dinner Conversations

A lot of people are giving advice about how to talk politics at the family gathering for Thanksgiving dinner. (I won't link to them; they're easy to find.) I thought I would join the fun and add my own recommendations.

1. Let others speak. Being thankful for one's blessings is what should be paramount in one's mind at Thanksgiving. But one cannot be thankful if one is thinking primarily about dominating others. Let others shine; let others speak; let others take the spotlight. When they talk about the good things that have happened to them this past year, or talk about their accomplishments or their children's accomplishments, let them. And join in their happiness. Listen attentively. Smile, laugh with them, congratulate them, show love to them. Don't be envious, jealous, peevish, or cynical: that would make you--and everyone else--unhappy. On this one occasion, let go of your ego.

2. Remember that you don't know as much as you think. You may think that your opinions about politics, economics, or morality are true, even unquestionably right. But you are an imperfect being, and you might be wrong. Remind yourself of that. And remember that it's okay to learn from others, even if what you're learning is simply what others believe and what makes other people tick. 

3. Remember that your family has helped make you what you are. If you have a proverbial "crazy Republican uncle" or "crazy liberal niece," that's okay. In fact, it's awesome! It's part of the rich pageantry of human life and human diversity. Your family has helped to shape you: be mindful of that fact and let yourself enjoy them. You don't need to correct them, you don't need to argue with them, you don't even need to say what you think. And you should not be embarrassed or chagrined or upset for having members of your family who see the world differently from the way you do. That is a beautiful thing. Embrace it and take joy in it.

4. Say grace. Even if you're not a believer, take a moment before you eat to say "thank you" for your family. During the meal, ask everyone at the table to take a turn telling everyone what they're thankful for. Listen to what others say. Don't interrupt them, don't put anyone down or roll your eyes; they are people too, every bit as entitled to respect as you are. Saying grace and taking a moment to think--and speak--about what you're thankful for reminds you of your blessings and reminds everyone that you are a family. And that's what is truly important.

5. Enjoy this time with your family. It might be a long time before you're together again. This is your family, warts and all: accept them and love them. There is all the time in the world to criticize and judge others; take this time simply to enjoy being in each other's presence. Recall the great memories of your times together. Tell tales. Ask others to talk about what's on their minds. And whatever they say or talk about, take it at face value. Don't get offended or upset or angry. Forgive and forget. For at least this one day, let bygones be bygones. Just enjoy your time together.

So many people dread Thanksgiving, but enjoying Thanksgiving can be as simple as changing your attitude. If you are determined not to get upset, if you are determined to be charitable and loving and respectful to everyone, you may just find yourself enjoying your time, not only despite your "crazy" relatives but perhaps even despite yourself. Life is short. We can spend the rest of the year focusing on the many bad things going on in our lives and in the world. On this day, focus on the good. And be thankful for this day.