For those of us in the United States, Thanksgiving presents an opportunity to gather with family and close friends and share a festive meal.
However, this holiday can become complicated in a time of polarized views. Coming on the heels of another political election, togetherness with those of strong opinions might be, to say the least, uncomfortable.
Put another way, the battles will be epic, the indigestion will be legendary.
So for everyone who is anticipating shifting restlessly in their seats this week, I wanted to offer you a short meditation.
Listen. If you listen closely enough, you will hear the real reasons that your family members believe what they do, particularly if their views seem hurtful or unfair. It often has something to do with fear or an unfulfilled need and often comes from a place of vulnerability.
You will chose how to approach this. But I can assure you that arguments are pointless. There will be no “winner”. Just resentment and an even stronger resolve not to change their minds. Don’t plan on pulling a “zinger” that will convert everyone to your way of understanding. Not gonna happen.
Observe. Instead of reacting to statements that you feel are wrong, watch the body language of those around you – it will show you the state that they are in. Clenched fists, hunched shoulders, unsmiling faces, repetitive movements – all these belie discomfort. Are people enjoying their food or unhappily shoveling it down?
Take a step back to help you see what’s really going on. Everyone at the table has a three-dimensional life with their own desires, joys and sorrows. In the time of heightened emotions, it’s easy to forget that.
Breathe. Don’t get sucked in. If someone asks you what you think about a contentious topic, smile and compliment Aunt Gladys’ stuffing. How does she always make it so flavorful? You woke this morning salivating, thinking about having it for dinner.
It may sound contrived, but if you can find a sincere compliment to express, you can change the direction of the conversation and relieve tension. But please, be sincere.
This is not a dishonest deflection of attention. This is finding that one thing that everyone can agree on and focusing on it. It’s like lighting a spark and then blowing on it gently to help it grow into a warm and cozy fire. Everyone benefits.
This is mindfulness at its best. Every person has something within them that wants to be loved and respected, even if they don’t feel they deserve it. Sometimes those who seem the most cantankerous feel the most wretched inside. Remember, at the end of the visit, you will get to leave, so why not leave having spread a little joy and goodwill?
At the least, you will have made Aunt Gladys smile.
There is a lot going on in the world that is worth fighting for. Thanksgiving dinner is not the place to do that. And perhaps the peace that you impart over that meal will eventually soften hearts and open minds.