Sweet potatoes, not politics. Turkey, not Trump. Holiday, not Hillary.
Beat the message into your brain. Thanksgiving is a time for the Macy’s parade, a 4,500-calorie feast and football. In 2016, of all years, do whatever you can to avoid bringing up the E word. If the election has taught us anything, it’s this: things can get ugly. Real fast.
Yes, we live in a divided nation, but don’t let all the political squabbling ruin this quintessentially American holiday – a day specifically set aside for holding hands and expressing gratitude.
Wake Forest University professor of counseling Samuel Gladding, who has written books on family therapy, says the best way to keep the conflict at bay is just to ban the topic of politics altogether. Many Americans seem to feel the same way. A recent survey by Meyocks, a Des Moines, Iowa, marketing firm, found 30 percent of respondents indicate they’ll just say no to political discussions this year.
So tread carefully, and don’t tread on Uncle Oscar. Gladding offers these tips for getting through the day unscathed.
▪ Establish ground rules. On Facebook, tell your cousins you can’t wait to see them, but politics won’t be on the menu. Or establish a politics-free zone at the table but allow for debate in other areas. “One of the best things we can do is to set the rules beforehand,” Gladding suggests. “The best surprise is no surprise.”
▪ Create a diversion. Have a fresh topic you can deploy if the conversation gets tense. “How ’bout those Cubs?” or “Isn’t this gravy divine?” Tell an old family tale that’s sure to generate laughs, reminding your relatives about what they have in common.
▪ Don’t take the bait. If Aunt Edna insists on a debate, you can always just exercise your right to silence. One person can’t argue with herself.
▪ Appoint a referee. If you feel the need to discuss the burning issue of the day, designate a neutral person who’s prepared to call a time out or make sure folks have equal time. “If a person has, like, two minutes to make his or her point and then it goes to the next person, then you get some kind of conversation going, rather than a shouting match,” Gladding says. Or if you’re unsure of where people stand, create a game, and start by asking who’s red, who’s blue and who’s purple. “That way you kind of have a sense of what to say or who to say it to,” he adds.
▪ Think of the kids. One way to disengage from a showdown is to cite the presence of children, who really won’t understand what’s going on and why everyone is so mad. “They’re really going to go away with the feeling that, ‘Wow, I don’t want to go to Thanksgiving if it’s going to be like this,’” Gladding points out.
▪ Behave. Don’t have that extra glass of chardonnay and go easy on the Budweiser. Alcohol can add gasoline to an already volatile conversation.
▪ Think about what day it is. What are you here for, anyway? It’s called Thanks. Giving. Remember you’re stronger together. Make it great again.