Top 10 Ideas to Keep the Peace at Your Thanksgiving Table
November 22, 2022
As many gather with friends and family to share meals this week for Thanksgiving, naturally, difficult conversations may arise.
We asked our Interfaith America colleagues to share some tips for reducing tensions. We got some great ideas from Noah Silverman, who leads our interfaith learning team, and Tina Grace and Megan Johnson, who work with college students on how to have better conversations between those of different opinions and worldviews. Based on their project, Bridging the Gap, and Interfaith America’s 20 years of developing interfaith curricula, here are some ways to keep the peace as you gather for the holidays.
- Before you gather, do a quick self-reflection.
One of the Bridging the Gap opening activities is around exploring and naming your purpose and identifying your “ethic of bridgebuilding.” To prepare for a challenging conversation at the dinner table, do some reflection ahead of time—what grounds me? What do I hold dear? What drives me? What inspires me?
Identifying those core values first can help you feel confident in your own beliefs and from that foundation, you can focus on being curious and open to what someone from a different background or perspective might share.
- This isn’t an interrogation.
When the moment comes that the dreadful topic of (insert difficult subject) comes up at the table, try not to interrogate immediately with condescending questions. Ask questions to better understand why the person holds the beliefs they do.
- Curiosity may have killed the cat, but you’ll be fine.
Approaching the conversation with open ears and curiosity can strengthen a relationship and establish trust. Creating a space where everyone can share their views without fear of being attacked or judged is essential. Doing this can make it easier to be honest and open about what brought us to hold those beliefs.
- Time for pie!
If you have an increased heart rate, are rapidly tapping your foot, or thinking of flipping the table, it may be time to excuse yourself from the room. Conversations with those we disagree with can be difficult. It’s okay to take a moment to breathe and re-center yourself.
- Leave the label maker at home.
It’s easy to reduce people to labels like conservative, liberal, Democratic, Republican, etc. Doing that takes away the individuality of a person. Humans are complex, and naturally, so are our reasons for holding our beliefs.
- The choice is yours.
It’s your choice whether to engage or not engage in the conversation. But if you do, be open to learning from a new perspective.
- Focus on gratitude.
If you’re feeling stressed, identify something you’re grateful for as a quick mental reframing tool.
- Find commonality in sharing stories or memories.
Focus on shared underlying values (like family, love, safety, health, etc.) and/or shared (abstract) dreams for the future (like peace, respect, dignity, etc.) rather than any particular social or political issues. If you’re spending this time with family, consider focusing on old family stories, ancestry, traditions, etc. or having friends share their memories or holiday traditions.
- What can be gained from the conversation?
If you find yourself heading into a heated discussion, ask yourself what you hope to and reasonably can gain from it? Most likely, no minds will be changed. But you could learn something about someone else while still disagreeing. Try to understand through asking questions and active listening why other people reach the conclusions they do, without arguing or contradicting. Interestingly, if you focus exclusively on someone else’s views without arguing, more often than not they will reciprocate and ask about yours.
- Strengthen the relationship.
When all is said and done, in most cases, the goal should be to preserve (and perhaps strengthen) the relationship. As long as you remain in relationship, not matter how stressed, thin, or difficult, there is always the possibility of mutual understanding and love.
We hope this helps with the many conversations over the end of the year holidays and throughout the year! For more on how to navigate difficult conversations, check out our Bridging the Gap program, conversation resources, and a new course.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life