Doing Dialogue

Facing the Holidays - And Each Other

November 22, 2016

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How can we make this year's dinner a little less painful?
How can we make this year's dinner a little less painful?

My kids and I just flew across the country, making that annual sojourn home for the holidays. The airports were packed, and nerves were frayed. Between flights we sat down to a quick meal of expensive and unsatisfying food. Wedged in the only empty seats in the dining area, it was impossible not to overhear the intent discussion of the family next to us.

“Do not engage Uncle Matt in any topic related to the election,” the father told his college-aged son. “I know you have strong feelings. I am just telling you that if you bring it up, the whole house is in for a two hour tirade. Please don’t do that to us.”

“If I can’t talk about what I believe in, especially now, what’s the point of even being in the same room with Uncle Matt? If he won’t change his mind, he at least needs to know how wrong he is,” replied son replied. My own teen son raised his eyebrows and his younger brother looked alarmed. A little later, he snuggled up to me on the plane and asked if there would be fights at our Thanksgiving.

That family is in good company. As many of us leave our comfortable bubbles of politically like-minded friends and neighbors and venture into the mixing and mingling that the holidays bring, we’re faced with similar choices. We can make nice, talk about the weather, the kids and their activities, or the glories of Aunt Dot’s pumpkin pie. If the other option is civil war, making nice is indeed the route of mercy. Especially this year, I can’t help but imagine that everyone is so desperate to just get through it, to just get along.

The dread is real. So, too, are the opportunities. During the holidays, we spend hours with people we don’t see very often either by choice or physical distance, and situate ourselves in a different story than the one we craft in our daily lives. We encounter more parts of ourselves, welcome and unwelcome, as we are reunited with the folks who made us who we are (or who made our spouses who they are). In a time when the nation appears torn asunder, holiday sojourns give us a critical moment to see if we can stitch together a better understanding of just what in the world is going on. A chance to risk seeing and understanding our kin in greater dimensions, and sharing more of ourselves than we normally would.

If you are game to try this exploration, to lean in with the courage it takes to craft deeper connection, there are three things I would have you consider:

  1. Is this a relationship where it is important for me to be known in this way? We don’t need to have these conversations with everyone in our lives. If political beliefs are not a strong and important part of your connections, bringing the election to the forefront may not be necessary. With some family members, though, we feel the need to be understood and to try to understand where they come from. If these are folks in the second category, proceed to:

  2. What do I hope for? If your desire is to change their mind, your conversation is likely to be unsatisfying. If your desire is to have deeper understanding and to be more deeply understood, what are you going to communicate about your own values? Share your experiences, not the bullet points of your favorite pundit, and encourage your family members to do the same. Then you might proceed to:

  3. Can we work together to understand each other? It is not enough for one person to have made the commitment and reflected on their wishes: it takes willing participants to be successful. If you are willing, then take turns, ask real questions, and listen to understand.

If you want more guidance - we have a handy guide and a list of potential questions for conversation. However you choose to engage this Thanksgiving, may you find some space to digest not just a great meal but also the many possibilities for action, for connection and for a future worthy of the generations to come. We owe it to each other and to the future to set aside momentary discomfort for the future of our planet. Let’s give thanks for each and every moment we have, to be alive, to learn, to connect.

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