Advice | November 25, 2019 8:00 am

It’s Your Civic Responsibility to Talk Politics at the Dinner Table This Thanksgiving

Six rules for doing so without getting kicked out of the house

It’s Your Civic Responsibility to Talk Politics at the Dinner Table This Thanksgiving

The holidays are coming, and that means parties with family, friends and co-workers, and if you’re anything like me — a big city liberal from a bucolic, Fox News-abiding red town — it also means rubbing elbows with some folks who might not share your opinions.

Conventional knowledge will tell you that this is a time to leave politics and religion out of it.

But that was before Trump, and the toxic bipartisanship that has followed, making clear a true but uncomfortable fact: there are two Americas right now, they don’t play nice with each other, and they’re making very little effort to listen to what the other side has to say.

So I’m going to suggest that this year you violate the rules of polite dinner conversation and talk about politics — early and often. Ours is a country  divided, and that division stems from a lack of understanding of how people outside of our own worldview feel. We’ll never reach understanding if we don’t talk sensibly to each other.

But before you go waltzing into the verbal briar patch, let us suggest a few simple ways to avoid full-blown donnybrooks.

  1. Challenge beliefs, not the people who hold them. Just because someone voted for Trump doesn’t make them a racist.
  2. Listen. What’s the feeling behind someone’s stance? Are they an environmentalist because they connect to the earth the way you connect to religion? If so, then you understand why they have that belief. Boom, common ground.
  3. Ask questions. How did they arrive at their conclusions?
  4. Be self-deprecating, even if the other person is incapable of doing it. It’s charming, and can lighten the mood when things get tense.
  5. Breathe and mind your body language. Don’t cross your arms. Don’t roll your eyes. Be open with your posture as well as your mind. You’re having a conversation, and you should feel lucky to have the freedom to take part in one.
  6. Know your positions. Don’t go into your conversations half-cocked. Read up. Cite credible sources. The Economist and The Atlantic do a thorough job that doesn’t skew as one-sided as, say, The New Yorker.

Closing suggestion: watch and read those who engage in civil discourse. So much of our media is dominated by blowhards; all their yelling and absolutism only reinforces feelings of superiority on both sides.

Instead, take the example of David Brooks and Mark Shields on the NewsHour. These two respectfully discuss the issues with facts and candor. You can imagine them having a beer after and letting their differences go.

At this moment in our history, it’s a worthwhile aspiration.

This article was originally published November 16, 2016