Thanksgiving was declared a federal holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. During the height of the Civil War, mind you.
Surely you can get through Thanksgiving dinner with your family.
The subject of the Thanksgiving table as a political battleground has been around for years, but perhaps reached a zenith after last year’s election of Donald Trump. And it’s only gotten worse in the past year, with his opponents organizing a collective “yell at the sky” on the one-year anniversary of his win, and others already calling for his impeachment.
Since the holiday was instituted by Lincoln to give “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” it would be nice to concentrate on that today, rather than our differences.
It may take some conscious thought on your part, especially if your family is as politically divided as the general population these days. So let’s think this through.
First, consider the fact that, unless they were on the debate squad in school, no one has taught the vast majority of people how best to argue. And the talking heads on TV are a purely awful model to emulate.
This is not an ideal situation, to say the least, when – with the advent of 24-hour news and instant communications via computers and smart phones – we are all debaters now.
If you insist on engaging in political jousting this holiday season, there are a great number of resources out there on how to “win any argument.” Inc.com, for instance, offers an article headlined “16 Surprising Secrets to Win Any Argument.” They include:
Don’t try to change others’ minds. It’s not going to happen.
Listen – lovingly, we might add. It’s always good advice.
Stay calm and unemotional, and ask clarifying questions, such as “Why do you say that?” (perhaps as opposed to arguing).
“Be modest and restrained in your presentation. … Be simple. Be earnest. Don’t try to impress.”
Concede a fine point made by another at the table; it’s the adult thing to do, and only adds to your credibility.
The article goes on to advise you to “Expose flaws and fallacies,” and “Know your enemy.” For the family get-together, especially, we’d recommend you dispense with thinking of someone in a discussion as the “enemy.”
In fact, we’d advise you to avoid the arguments at the table in the first place. Or at least defuse them if you can; there are articles out there on how to do that, as well.
We would merely suggest that it’s not important to win every argument – and in a holiday setting, it’s a mistake to try.
Absorb others’ arguments intellectually, not emotionally, viewing them as information to quietly dissect internally. There’s no law that says you must react, even to provocation. You can’t control what others think and say, but you are in full ownership of how you react. It’s never a mistake to react with kindness, and rarely a mistake to not react at all. Stay above the fray if you can.
Besides, one of the best ways to honor someone is with your quiet reflection of their views. Psychcentral.com suggests “concentrating on any components you do agree with.”
At bottom, one of the things we can and should do – and not just during the holidays – is focus on what unites us, rather than always harping on what divides us. And no other holiday, save for the Fourth of July, should unite us quite like Thanksgiving.
Freedom. Opportunity. Hope for a better tomorrow. The striving for equality, justice and peace. And – ironically enough – the very diversity and individuality that gives rise to those dinner-table squabbles. These are just some of the things that unite us, in a country that isn’t bound by a single ethnicity.
Sharing each other’s burden and bounty, while giving each other the room to be different. Now, that’s as American as it gets.
And it’s something to be very thankful for.