Tips to surviving political talk at Thanksgiving dinner
(KMSP) - The early morning hours of November 3 marked the end of a knock-down, dragged out political season.
Here we are, weeks later still swinging. One thing most people can agree on, no matter where we sit politically, it’s going to take time to adjust to our new normal - which would be fine, except we don’t have a lot of time. Because our crazy uncle is on his way over for Thanksgiving.
A few days before the holiday, we ran into Avonna Starck, a life-long Democrat, shopping for a few last minute groceries. She told us that in her family, it’s not the holidays unless they’re talking politics.
“I worked at the legislature for three years I have a Master's in political science," said Avonna. "And so if someone makes that real fatal error of asking - I'm going to answer.”
But this year, friendly banter could turn into friendly fire.
“This isn't a win or a loss," said Avonna. "This is very real emotion coming from some place very primal in a lot of people.”
Also on Avonna’s menu this Thanksgiving: fear.
“I'm having a little anxiety over how I'm going to explain the results to my Grandma,” she said.
And a side of frustration with family who didn’t vote.
“It wasn't that we had completely different opinions. It was that I couldn't get them to show their opinion at all,” she said.
So how do we make the most of the holidays when we’re at emotional, political odds with the people we love?
Fox 9 asked family and couples therapist, Jeffrey Hupf. First, he says, resist the temptation to ban political talk.
“We want to tell people 'no don't talk about that,'" said Hupf. "Or 'no political talk' or 'if you want to talk about that go over there.' But in reality that's just me trying to manage somebody else instead of taking care of myself and saying, 'Hey what I need at this moment is deep breath. Maybe hold that pain in my chest, rather than make everyone else behave in a way that I find acceptable.'”
Second, there’s no right or wrong way to do this.
“Some families I meet with, if they don't have an experience where they kind of ‘mix it up’ they end up feeling like it's not a very intimate or real experience. And other families, they keep most of their feelings and needs to themselves and that's how they've done it their whole lives,” he said.
Third, if tempers boil over, don’t panic.
“So they might be really hot and angry and then all of a sudden someone's showing interest and curiosity without judgment and they start to just calm down because that's just the way our nervous systems were designed,” said Hupf.
And if that doesn’t work, don’t take it personally.
“Most families do it," he said. "So I think we need to recognize that we do that and we have the ability to shift and so if something gets tense - not to pathologize that and go 'Oh there must be something really wrong with us that somebody got upset.'”
So there it was. The more experts we talked to, the more we realized it might not be our crazy relatives we’re anxious about. It might be our own fear of conflict.
“Who's to say that a conflict-free gathering is better than a gathering where there's a little bit of conflict?" said Hupf. "I think it's a way to show love to people. To allow them to express themselves, even if they feel angry or really frustrated and not feel like 'I need to redirect them or change them or clamp down on them so everyone can have a placid time.'”
Few people navigate conflict better than Sharon Press, the executive director of the Dispute Resolution Institute in St. Paul.
“When I think about conflict, I always think about conflict as an opportunity," said Press. "For many people, there are lots of reasons they voted the way they did. Most of those are not, what we who voted the other way, may think is the reason they chose. And so to understand what drove it. And as I've listened to both sides, what I have come to is to really hear that there's a lot of fear on both sides. And I think that it's helpful for people to understand what was driving the vote.”
So as we gather with those we love this holiday, maybe we can give thanks and then give ourselves and our crazy uncle some credit.
Maybe we’re more prepared than we think. So what do you say, let’s put that bird in the oven, take a deep breath and get to know that big old elephant – or donkey – in the room.
“It may be enough just to have a conversation, assure each other," said Press. "Look we know we don't see things eye to eye and we still love each other and care about each other and let's have a good Thanksgiving.”