Dilemmas at Dinner

When holiday meals coincide with elections, it’s no wonder a Thanksgiving meal with extended family becomes a breeding ground for arguments and tension.

Elizabeth Bisno

Think back to your last Thanksgiving. As your family sits down to a delicious dinner, some distant second cousin three-times removed says, “Thank you for coming everyone, I’m glad you could all make it here tonight, and bon appétit!” Everyone digs in.

What follows is a steady buzz of friendly conversation as everyone enjoys the meal… and then an uncle mentions the election.

Voices rise from a hum to a clamor — a festive Thanksgiving evening quickly turns into a family argument over politics.

This is enough to make us want to call it a day and remove ourselves from the awkward atmosphere. However, there are some conversational strategies to keep the conversations positive and help conflicts subside.

One rule to remember when you find yourself reunited with the family over Thanksgiving dinner, is to not stay quiet, which will make you hate being stuck at the table.

You didn’t come to this celebration to sulk and poke at your mashed potatoes while your family discovers how much they disagree with one another.

“Sometimes the adults don’t trust us to participate, so they don’t include us, so then we should include ourselves,” junior Kate Spaulding said.

When you have no say in any of the discussions, you’re likely to have an unpleasant evening. If the conversations are fun and constructive, then that’s great. If people are acting too defensive about their opinions or indignant about others’ and most of the family is just sitting there awkwardly, now would be the time to jump in and work toward a less antagonistic discussion. Here are some tips to follow:


Tip #1: Find Common Ground

Take, for instance, the current debate over vaccines.

The two sides appear to be totally opposing, but whether they want to protect their kids from diseases or from autism by avoiding vaccines, both desire the well-being of their children; they just believe in doing so in different ways.

Acknowledging this will create a bridge. If you smooth over the arguments with a shared goal, the conversation will move forward.

One additional benefit of finding common ground is the mental exercise itself. It will show your older relatives how very diplomatic and mature you are and they’ll start to take you seriously.


Tip #2: Listen

If you’re interested in the tactical advantages of listening to those who disagree with you, you should know that it’s the best way to read their core values.

Once those values become apparent, you can construct an argument in which those values back up your opinion.

Participating in the family debate isn’t all about you talking your head off whenever you disagree.

It’s about being open to others’ opinions. Everyone wants to talk. Try listening. We’re all aware that older relatives can sometimes be set in their ways and might feel disrespected when traditional views are challenged or replaced by new ones. So, listen first and then politely share your views.


Tip #3: Step Away from Conflict

Feel free to try to redirect conversation. The operative word there is “try.”

If you feel tension is rising, believe it or not, basic elementary school playground rules can help solve arguments.

Use those “I” statements you learned as a kid. Eliminate controversial subject matter and share only your feelings in that moment.

Sophomore Ava Rice usually waits for controversial political topics to “die out.” Or she tries to change the topic “It’s awkward for everyone except for two people, so I try my best to stay away from [those topics] especially if the whole family disagrees on it.”

If you can’t redirect the discussion and turn to someone next to you — there has to be someone else who dreads political discussions.