The recent election results are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the teeth-pulling conversations that will take place over Thanksgiving, 2016. With all of your racist, sexist, and misogynistic family members, or your fragile helplessly-liberal college graduates, depending on your perspective, this Thanksgiving is going to be one for the ages.
Regardless of your political beliefs, the instinct for many people is to run and hide. For some of you, keeping to yourself is a matter of physical and emotional safety, but for many others it is your privilege that affords you the opportunity to avoid vocalizing your concerns, leave town, and return to your safety net unscathed by the outcomes of being mute.
Burying your head in the sand is missing an important opportunity.
Embedded within the challenging topics of police brutality, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Syrian refugees, transgender bathroom rights, and the recent election results is the possibility for healing and understanding.
Here are seven ways to approach the difficult topics that will inevitably come up this Thanksgiving.
1. Fight your urge to shut down and disengage--it only perpetuates the problem.
With so many individuals falling into dichotomous thinking, now is an important time to model your ability to respectfully tolerate ongoing disagreement. Remaining silent on important issues--particularly when they involve oppression--allows those thoughts and behaviors to continue causing harm to others.
Avoiding difficult conversations with family members and then demanding their like-minded peers to engage in critical self reflection and tolerate your views is hypocritical and cowardly--a reflection of your privilege and a product of guilt stemming from your own participation in oppressive systems.
Take this opportunity to spend time with people you may not see on a regular basis to get in touch with different perspectives, practice being present, and challenging yourself to remain engaged.
2. Know from the start that you aren't going to change anyone's mind--so don't even try.
Your racist Uncle will still be your racist Uncle after your conversation, but that's not the point. The purpose of your engagement isn't to transform someone's way of thinking.
Your purpose is to be the spark that illuminates a room for conversation in a dark world that prevents people from feeling understood.
Regardless of your politics, positive social change doesn't come as the result of silence, it comes from difficult and meaningful conversations in which people tolerate the discomfort of disagreement and co-navigate the clashing of competing realities.
3. Instead of immediately challenging, do your best to model understanding and compassion.
The most important aspect of these conversations is your behavior--how you handle the discomfort and disagreement.
When your child screams during temper tantrum, do you respond by yelling back, or do you remain calm, help the child process their feelings, and explain the importance of putting their toys away?
Your behaviors, actions, and ability to listen will teach more effectively and have a more significant impact than any words you utter this Thanksgiving.
4. Push yourself to ask more questions that convey your interest in their perspective.
Often, when a friend or family member says something offensive or that we disagree with, we either challenge them right that second or shut down. We rarely take the opportunity to ask more questions and learn more about that person's perspective that may show us why they think the things they do.
This Thanksgiving, ask more questions to stay engaged and open to perspectives that, due to your privilege, you may not hear on a regular basis, but exists in large numbers outside of your bubble.
There's no need to waste energy yelling and trying to convince people to share your worldview--your entire visit is only you versus you--an inner battle asking you to embody the values you wish to see in others.
5. Validate their feelings while providing more information.
Even if you disagree with what a person says, their feelings constitute their reality. Convey to the person that their feelings matter.
You can validate their feelings with the hope that they will eventually learn this behavior themselves, but even if they don't, you will become a better person for developing this emotional tolerance.
Similarly, putting your privilege to work by providing additional information and resources is important, however, your intention should be pure. Make sure to avoid condescending or aggressive undertones because that tone will cause others to close off and shut down.
It's not about transforming the person's perspective, it's about planting seeds that can be nourished and eventually grow into something positive.
6. Challenge statements that are oppressive and explain the reasons why such comments are harmful.
Language is powerful and results in the harm of millions of people, so it is completely within your right to challenge hurtful statements. In fact, it is your moral responsibility to do so.
Being neutral and allowing family members to get away with harmful statements is siding with oppression. However, you also need to acknowledge your shadow.
Facing the brutality of your own flawed family members means confronting old aspects of yourself that are often disavowed and yet readily observed as coming from others.
Share your own biases and transformation story so you can level the playing field and give voice to the thoughts and feelings you aren't proud of, but need to be acknowledged.
7. Have a strong support system and other outlets in place to process the difficult emotions that arise.
This Thanksgiving might not be easy, but then again, when was the last time large family engagements were stress free? Smile, relax, and breathe--take comfort in the presence of home-cooked green bean casserole.