Talking Turkey, Talking Trump
This month my book club read Where the Right Went Wrong, E.J. Dionne Jr’s book about conservativism in America, a selection made long before Election Day, and back when we thought we’d be in a different place politically when we met to discuss it. One of our group told us how she was anxious about her upcoming visit to family for Thanksgiving. Her political views differed from theirs, and she would be outnumbered. She told us about the letter she was drafting to send to them prior to the holiday, in hopes that they would sensitive to her feelings.
Everyone in your household may be on the same page regarding the election. In case that’s not the case, before you lob a turkey leg or a fistful of Tofurkey across the dining room table, take a breath.
Think about how you’d guide two kids arguing over a toy. What is the value you want to instill in the kids? Sharing? Fairness? Generosity? What is the value you want to demonstrate at your table? Respect? Gratitude? Love? Let that be your rock, and if the conversation starts to get heated or voices are raised, grab onto it and let it anchor you.Then consider these steps to help bring the folks at your table together:
• Set some ground rules: In your first toast or when everyone sits down at the table, give your values a voice:
I’m so glad we can all be together, and share this holiday, even if we don’t share the same views on events in the news
I’m so grateful to be part of this family, and to respectfully sharing all the differing points of view we each have
Thanks to everyone for coming, and for sharing this food, and good conversation, with love and understanding
I have spent the last five hours preparing this meal, and I hope whenever you feel like saying something about the election, you will choose instead to say something nice about my cooking. I hope that’s something we can all agree on!
There are some families in which this approach simply won’t work. In this case, you may have to accept that ground rules aren’t going to constrain some. You’ll need to decide with whom you want to engage, but I’d encourage you to ask for space, or time if needed, or to try turning what might feel like an attack to you into an exploration about what matters to the other person. And if none of that works, you can always change the subject and ask them to pass the mashed potatoes.
• Acknowledge feelings: Think about how we encourage good sportsmanship in our kids. We encourage the same behavior in winners and losers. We encourage respect, and acceptance of the outcome as well as the feelings winning or losing brings with it.
Expressing sadness or grief over the outcome of the election is not a sign of weakness. If we can separate out the feelings from the events that generated them, we can start there. No one wants to see those they love hurting.
Recognize that however YOU are feeling, not everyone may be in the same place, even if they are on the same side. At yoga the Saturday after the Election, our instructor led us through a practice and a meditation about anger. Except I wasn’t angry. I was sad. Grief-stricken. Heartsick. I cried most of the way through the class. Recognize that not everyone will be processing events in the same way, at the same pace. They may not be ready to talk. Let them grieve, or be angry, or sad, or quiet. Ask them how they feel, whether they want to talk. And respect the answer.
• Ask questions: The biggest challenge we face now is talking with those who we see as holding a diametrically opposing view. You can’t understand how someone on the other side can BE on the other side. So let’s find out: Take out the political angle, and you have either an angry/despairing/grieving family member, or a happy/excited relation. If you were just responding to the feelings, what would you ask?
What is your biggest hope for the new Administration?
What concerns you the most about the next President?
• Listen: Ask your question, and then just be quiet. Seriously, just stop talking. Take in what the other person has told you. You actually don’t have to say anything. Each of us needs to feel heard. Resolve that right now your goal is not to persuade the other person to see the light. Your goal is to hear what the other person has to say. You can think up a counterpoint tomorrow. Right now you’re listening.
This stuff matters because what we’re really arguing about is values. I believe we have more in common, and share more in terms of values, than the highly-charged campaign hype may lead you to feel. Headlines and sound bites are made to amp you up, not usually in a good way. No question there is much at stake. Talking past each other is just not a productive approach to keeping the nation – or your family – together.
Change happens in living rooms and kitchens, and at dining room tables. Ground yourself in what matters to you, ask questions, and listen. Democracy is often messy, frustrating and loud. Just like families.