I loved holiday dinners when I was a child. Whether they were at my house, or my grandparents or my Aunt Pat’s, those Holiday meals would challenge my little belly to take in as much turkey and mashed potatoes as I could fit. My early grade school memories recall the kind of challenges that came with simple solutions, such as having no kids table at our house and resolving the issue by tossing a sheet over the ironing board, or running out of room in the oven to bake the yams which was resolved by using the wood-stove.
I also remember fun and lively conversations at the table, or at least at the adult table. Oh how lovely childhood memories are. Somehow my brain chose not to either notice or at least remember that the holiday dinner conversations weren’t always so charming.
For many of us, as we prepare our grocery lists and rearrange the dining room for the upcoming generation spanning get-togethers we are recalling more recent memories of a table spread with holiday cheer and a side of conflict.
Somehow we all survived Thanksgiving 2016, though not entirely unscathed. According to Better Angels, a group founded in 2016 to help us learn how to have more civil conversations with each other, Thanksgiving Dinners last an average of one hour less than they did three years ago as people try to avoid conflict.
Whenever four generations (or possibly more) get together there’s bound to be some differences of opinions. Each person is likely from different walks of life, having all experienced life a little bit different, having differing priorities, different concerns, and most of all different ideas of how to fix whatever seems broken.
So how do we prevent all of those conflicting concepts from ruining a dinner, that for many families only happens a few times a year?
To start, we don’t expect that the conflict won’t happen. Pretending that everyone will behave perfectly, with kindness and absolute respect only exists in the world of fiction.
It is also not our responsibility to make everyone behave the way we want them to. On the same hand, all relationships require boundaries. There is nothing wrong with letting Uncle Grumpy or Sister Sarcastic know when their behavior has gone too far.
Here are a few tips from the experts on the subject:
Look for common ground, it might be as basic as agreeing that although we have different ideas on how to solve Social Security benefits problems, we agree they are a concern.
Respond instead of Reacting. Emotion met with emotion only escalates conflict.
Respectfully (without sarcasm or judgement) repeat back what it is that you think the other person is saying in the form of a question. This will help avoid conflict caused from not understanding each other. Show a genuine desire to listen well and hear correctly. Everyone really just wants to know they are being heard.
Realize that many people consider their beliefs or membership of specific ideals as a large part of their identity. For some, having that ideal attacked feels no different than being personally attacked.
As American’s we have the right to openly share our concerns and possible solutions. That right, just like the right to vote has to be used to be kept. There is a time and place for everything. We know better than to start political arguments at work, we should know better than to start them at the dinner table.
Remember, this country is named the UNITED States of America. We’re all going to have to figure out how to get better at having compassionate , empathetic and respectful conversations if we want to keep it UNITED. So pass the pumpkin pie and laugh a little.
“Do not think of knocking out another person’s brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago ”
~Meaningful Living Audrey L Elder