This Thanksgiving there will probably be a Turkey in the room- but there might also be an Elephant too. Thanksgiving is traditionally a day spent connecting with families and loved ones. But this past week has been a stressful one for our interactions. People on both side of the political spectrum are processing the results of a highly polarizing election. Some relationships with family and friends might be strained by the results. There’s probably more than one of you who will be spending the next few days bracing yourself to sit down at a table with people you are just bound to get in an argument with. Not a pleasant experience for anyone involved.
Don’t call out sick just yet. ORANS wants to help you survive this holiday season without getting squashed by the elephant in the room. By focusing on the interactions, you can help to prevent and transform conflicts that may arise around the dinner table. Here are a few tips to help keep you feeling thankful for Thanksgiving.
Don’t bail on the conversation.
Your relatives will notice if you’re not engaged. If you’re just floating by, trying to get from the main meal to dessert as quickly as possible, people will notice that something is up. Sulking at the far end of the table may help you to avoid having to talk about politics, but it will also harm interactions around the table. People may worry about you, or wonder why you’re not talking. Then they might ask you. You can choose to say that you’re not talking because you’re worried about starting a political argument. Or you can choose to say you don’t feel well. Or you can choose to not respond at all. Regardless of your choice, by avoiding interaction with your family members, you’re still bringing conflict to dinner, just a different type of conflict than you expected. No matter how upset you might be with your family members, or how wary you might be of political conflict, not being engaged is riskier than being engaged. If you check out of the conversation, you’re assuring that the night will be strained, rather than wagering on the chance that it might turn out okay. Be optimistic and stay present with your family members!
Make sure that you come prepared with centering techniques.
Being centered is very important to keeping your head cool and your thoughts grounded when conflict starts brewing. That means that it’s important to approach conflict prone situations ready to meet the challenge. Much of being centered comes from the ability to calm the body, namely to calm your primitively instinctual monkey mind and your racing heart. One of the most ancient ways of doing so is by concentrating on your breath. It is your breath that is your personal gateway to allowing yourself to be calm in the face of storms. So, if your Uncle starts asking you frustrating political questions at the dinner table, take a deep breath in order to get oxygen flowing. Then respond. There will likely be a marked difference between your original reaction and your centered response.
Additionally, pay attention to yourself. You know what helps to center you. Maybe you go for a run, maybe you knit, maybe you take a bath, or maybe you draw- don’t neglect these things in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Or take a break from the family on the day in question and do something that helps to center you. You’ll be able to manage the stress more easily if you pay attention to what you need to stay centered! Relaxing your reactivity will go a long way.
Be grounded and know what you can and cannot control.
Sure, your Aunt may be driving you crazy right now. Does that mean that she is the worst person ever? That she will never change, and that her political beliefs mean that the two of you will never get along again? Will having a discussion about politics at Thanksgiving dinner help at all to change her mind? Look harder at that. What you see when you look harder is the reality that what you think maybe true is maybe not. Knowing this, you are willing to make room for other possibilities, reality as it is- good, bad, ugly, disappointing, sweet, tender, or joyful.
Being grounded means that you don’t use labels. That means that you avoid assuming your Aunt is a bad person because of who she voted for. You may not be able to get where your Aunt is coming from with her political ideology, but she has her reasons. Imagine she is thinking the same thing about you- that you’re a bad person because of who you voted for. You know you’re not a bad person, and you know that who you voted for doesn’t really reflect who you are as a person. The label is unfair when applied to you, so shouldn’t it be unfair when applied to your Aunt?
Being grounded also means that you know that the current tension in your family is temporary. You expect that it will change. Thanksgiving is one meal, and its purpose is to share gratefulness with the people that you love. Despite differing political standpoints, your family loves you and you love your family. Stay grounded in that fact as you pass the stuffing.
You don’t have to disclose who you voted for .
This is a big one for being clear. There are probably a few relatives who know who you voted for, but you are in no way required to tell everyone in the room who you voted for. Your ethics of disclosure are personal. You definitely don’t need to walk into the meal and tell everyone your political choices. You can choose to be silent on that front and wait to see if someone asks you about your political beliefs. If someone does end up asking you about politics, you can decide what information you declare off limits for disclosure. If you decide that your political preference is truly “none of their business,” then you explain to them why it is a question you won’t answer. You can also decide there are certain discussions that are off limits, even if your relatives know who you voted for. This is different from checking out of the conversation because you’re happy to engage with them on other topics. When they try to ask you about your political decisions it is well within your rights to say “I don’t really care to talk about politics today, let’s just focus on the food!”
By being relational, and paying attention to your interactions, you can focus on what Thanksgiving’s really all about: stuffing yourself with delicious food and falling asleep on the couch surrounded by people you’re grateful for, no matter their political beliefs! Happy Thanksgiving, from all of us at ORANS to you!