How to engage in political conversations at the dinner table this Thanksgiving

Devyn McCray is a junior biology major.

GRAPHIC BY SAMANTHA CADENAS-ARZATE/GRAPHICS CENTER

As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us might be less than delighted to celebrate the usual festivities this year.

Coming from a divorced household, Thanksgiving has always been a hassle for me, as I am left trying to navigate which parent gets to see me each year as if I was picking favorites. America seems to gear the holiday toward a traditional two-parent household, but in this day and age, a perfectly-intact nuclear family is simply not the norm. More than 40% of all marriages in the country end in divorce, yet our standards for the holidays remain consistent.

For me, I can either spend Thanksgiving with my Democratic dad and his family, or with my Republican mom, her husband, and their family. I tend to lean toward the more liberal side of politics, and, though I love my mom, the inevitable discussion of politics at our dinner table is uncomfortable. Whether it’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, or parents, someone always seems to have an opinion about my beliefs or someone else’s beliefs, and spending hours being berated for my opinions is not my ideal way to spend a holiday. Frankly, it probably isn’t anyone’s. 

It’s become a common complaint among college students regarding the holidays: “Great, I get to go home and argue with my family about politics.” With the election finally being declared for Joe Biden, those of us with conservative families might be susceptible to more arguments than ever before. I recently went home for the weekend to celebrate my younger sister’s birthday, and, in a house full of Republicans with one measly Democrat (me), no matter how much I tried to avoid the topic, the election was the only thing everyone wanted to talk to me about. I don’t want to fight about my beliefs or my morals with my family, but I also refuse to be told that I’m “just young,” or that “liberals are ignorant and uneducated.” I can’t even imagine how hard it will be to tolerate an entire day dedicated to conversing with my family in a polite manner.

If this is the case, and Thanksgiving is all about family, why do we even celebrate it? Isn’t arguing with family the opposite of the holiday’s intended meaning? Thanksgiving, which is believed to be modeled after the 1621 feast between pilgrims and Native Americans, is meant to be a day of thanks and celebration. Yet here we are, fighting amongst ourselves, failing to recognize we are doing the exact opposite of what the holiday is meant for.

These political conversations could be vitally important, despite how painful they can be. Presenting someone with a different perspective could not only give them a better understanding of your beliefs but can educate them on larger issues of policy. More so, if your family tends to fall on the “same side” of politics, it’s like talking to a mirror, the same complaints being echoed throughout the room as you commiserate. In either situation, a political discussion could be ideal — just not at the dinner table, when people are meant to unwind and enjoy each other’s company.

Let’s take this Thanksgiving to change the way we celebrate with our families, no matter how begrudgingly, and to also stay safe. If you are planning to go see family, try and keep the peace. If you feel your family won’t respect your boundaries, steer away from political topics. Recognize opinions, but change the subject if the conversation is steering toward a fight. In terms of the conversation progressing, there are some key things to remember to keep it civil. Listen, as listening and allowing someone to voice their opinions is a huge part of keeping a conversation fair and respectful. Try not to cut anyone off. Remember everyone is allowed their own opinion. Speak, but do not try to force anyone to change their opinions to match yours, and do not let anyone force their beliefs on you. Finally, breathe. If things get heated, take a step back. Change the topic. Talk to someone else. Just take a break from the conversation.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be about relaxing and recognizing the blessings of the year, and we should celebrate it as such. Celebrate the family you are with, no matter how different your opinions are. I’m sure grandparents would much rather hear about love lives and how school is going instead of arguing about Biden and Trump. 

Stay strong, stay healthy, and be happy this Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving can be a great holiday over which to break bread, and how we choose to celebrate it with our families is within our control.

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