Perhaps you come from an exceptional family that is well versed in empathetic discourse. If so, congratulations…count your blessings…and please write the much needed book on how to accomplish such a feat.
But I imagine that, based on your presence on this particular post, the paragraph above doesn’t describe your family nor how you anticipate this Thanksgiving going down.
Nope. You’re reading this because you represent the rest of us, who…
…very deep breath…
…anticipate this Thanksgiving to be the most complicated of our lifetime.
Just the thought of walking into a home filled with our politically-charged bloodline is intimidating. Chances are good you’ve already made assumptions about “them” based on how you imagine they voted. Over the last 24 months, and certainly since Tuesday’s election, those unchecked assumptions have likely calcified into a book of pseudo-truths that you believe about “them.”
Go ahead. Admit it. It’s a first and healthy step for all of us to take.
Chances are equally high that they’ve taken the same journey from assumption to calcified pseudo-truths about you.
This assumption-to-pseudo-truth pilgrimage that we’ve all taken hasn’t been a healthy one. It’s impossible to walk that road and come out better versions of ourselves. And so, on Thanksgiving, it’s likely that lesser versions of ourselves will dine with lesser versions of our clan. We’ll all share pleasantries and do our best not to talk politics. But slowly, politics will begin to leak out like the initial steam of a volcano and, before we know it, lava balls will be flying into our cranberry sauce.
From my point of view, what the world needs is more empathetic discourse and less lava launching, so here are three tools to help us navigate our politically charged Thanksgiving tables.
(1) Commit to preemptive learning. One of the major factors in this year’s political maelstrom was our good friend Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook algorithm. Unless we’ve found a way to beat the system, the odds are very high that our Facebook feed fed us articles, insights, and videos that aligned with and reinforced our perspective and preferences. Based on the biased barrage of input coming at us, we were duped into believing that “the whole world thinks like me!” We congratulated ourselves on being the enlightened ones who really knew what America needs.
What I discovered is that some of my family members, who represent a very different set of political values and preferences than I, were seeing a completely different set of articles, insights, and videos that reinforced their perspective as the greatest possible good. As I congratulated myself for my supposed globally-backed point of view, they were congratulating themselves for their own.
So here’s what I did during the political season and what I recommend we all do in anticipation of the Thanksgiving Table. First, identify a family member or friend who represents a view point unlike your own. Second, go to their Facebook page and like the top 20 items on their wall regardless of if you “like” any of it. This will get their diverse perspective into your Facebook feed. Third, ask them to send you two articles that they’ve read since the election that best capture their perspective of the whole cornucopia. Fourth, read those articles with suspended judgment so that you can crawl inside a perspective unlike your own.
(2) Listen longer than feels comfortable. Since Tuesday’s election, I’ve literally heard myself not listening to others’ perspectives. Simply put, I’ve been too committed to voicing my own. My fierce commitment to being heard and understood has, at times, turned me into an intellectual, arrogant bully. If we’ve seen anything over the past 24 months, its the ineffectiveness and utter ridiculousness of childish name-calling, premature conclusions, and immature interruptions.
Now is not the time to yell, much less yell louder. Now is the time to distance ourselves from the need to be understood and to listen longer than feels comfortable. Here is what I recommend for when we find ourselves around that Thanksgiving Table next week. First, ask questions that are genuinely curious rather than suggestively corrective. Questions like, “What is the one change you most hope for in this next season and how did that inform your vote?” and “When our next President’s tenure is up, what do you hope is different or better in our country and world?” will help you get beyond the candidate comparisons and unhelpful rhetoric and into the hurts and hopes of your table-mates. Second, suspend your need to change them and listen long to how they answer your questions. Third, allow your assumptions and pseudo-truths about “them” to be transformed by what you hear. Fourth, where your assumptions were dead wrong, name it and apologize. Fifth, be prepared to answer your own questions if your table-mates reciprocate.
(3) Focus on your family’s legacy. The bottom line is this: the change that we want to see in the world has never rolled down from Capitol Hill. I find it so troubling that every four years, we dupe ourselves again into believing that the next President or preferred political party will accomplish for us what we want him/her/them to accomplish. It’s a goofy, futile game that we play until after the elections when we realize, again, that the change that we want to see in the world is on us and our families.
If abortion is your family’s big voting issue, great! Then this Thanksgiving, let’s ask ourselves how we, as a family, are going to contend for at-risk women in creative and costly ways such that abortion might dissipate from their list of preferred options.
If poverty, homelessness, and educational disparity are your family’s big voting issues, great! Then this Thanksgiving, let’s ask ourselves how we, as a family, are going to partner with other families in re-allocating our own resources to ensure that every child in our area has adequate shelter, clothing, food, education, and support.
If equity for black lives is your family’s big voting issue, great! Then this Thanksgiving, let’s embark upon a family-wide learning journey that truly gets us in touch with the historical narrative that our black brothers and sisters have lived since the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. HERE is a great place to begin. Let’s commit to getting in touch with our privilege and taking an inventory of how we’ve benefited from the systems that have oppressed black lives. Then, let’s begin the hard work of building trusting relationships with the black community, listening to their perspective, and following their leadership.
If economic development and domestic jobs are your family’s big voting issues, great! Then this Thanksgiving, let’s make a commitment as a family to patronize local business owners, eat at farm-to-table restaurants, purchase and drive US-made vehicles, purchase and wear ethically constructed US-made goods, and bolster migrant entrepreneurship.
If immigration reform is your family’s big voting issue, great! Then this Thanksgiving, let’s commit as a family to not only hosting and supporting local migrants and patronizing migrant entrepreneurs, but also advocating as a part of local and national organizing for humanizing immigration reform.
If homeland security and the “War on Terror” are your family’s big voting issues, great! Then this Thanksgiving, let’s commit to a learning journey that gets us all in touch with the rise of terror, how enemies are constructed and defeated, and the role of our own country in the cyclical surge, decline, and reincarnation of terror. Let’s commit ourselves to identifying and debunking the myths that we hold about Arab Muslims and make a family-wide decision to spend the year building authentic relationships with local Muslims.
If protecting the rights of our First Nations brothers and sisters is your family’s big voting issue, great! Then this Thanksgiving, let’s begin by simply acknowledging that the very holiday that caused us to convene is a celebration of “Manifest Destiny” and the misguided theological construction of a God who is for people of lighter skin at the expense of people of darker skin. Then, let’s begin to learn about the indigenous tribes that had once inhabited the land where your home sits. As you learn their story, commit to building relationships with their contemporary ancestors in the reservations nearest your home. You could also make a plan to support the Standing Rock protest in your physical presence or, at the very least, through financial investment.
Can you imagine a moment when your own Thanksgiving Table transitions from politically charged to hopefully restorative? What would happen around our country if families like yours began to embrace and embody their legacies for the common good? Wouldn’t it be something if families across the country pointed to the Thanksgiving Table of 2016 as the moment they realized their potential as instruments of peace in our world?
Friend, may you be that catalyst this Thanksgiving!