Thanksgiving — a time of a gathering with family and friends to share gratitude can also become, in these trying times, a cauldron of fuming political and social discourse that sends us running away from the table before the pumpkin pie can be served. Let’s tell ourselves a different story. How would it feel to approach a dreaded family Thanksgiving conversation not as a weary obligation but rather an opportunity for fine-tuning your Jedi skills? With the right tools and frame of mind, a conversation with someone whom you totally disagree can actually be a window into a deeper side of yourself and result in an unexpectedly enjoyable experience. Let’s explore this further — and “May The Soul Force Be With You!”
Gathering with the extended family and in-laws can create a unique blending of world views and philosophies. In our current political environment, that can become a tinder box. For the past couple of years, as we have seen a dramatic slide in honorable civic discourse, many of us have experienced similar challenges in how we engage with family, friends, and coworkers when topics of disagreement arise. The level of nastiness has risen to new heights. We are exhausted from the stress of emotional strain and heartache. We know this must shift, but how?
Like all change, it starts as a revolution inside of each of us. We have more power over a situation than we believe. We get to choose in each instant how we are going to respond. Do we choose fear, or do we choose love? I know it sounds much simpler than it is. How do we choose a loving response when we want to rip someone’s eye out? We change the way we hold the conversation.
Why are we so bent on trying to make the person have the same opinion and feeling as we do? How does the interaction change if we are focused on listening to what the other person believes and approaching their beliefs with curiosity to better understand them rather than trying to win an argument? Listening is more than just being silent. Active listening requires the creation of space to fully embrace someone and what they are saying — and not waiting on the edge of your seat for the first moment to provide your counterpoint or brilliant retort. That’s a debate, not a conversation.
You might be surprised what happens when you ask a question that is rooted in curiosity and discover you have a window for making an unexpected connection about something in common. When you provide this respectful space for dialogue, it would follow that you expect the other person to grant you the same courtesy. That is a fair assumption; however, also be prepared that the person with whom you are speaking may not have the same skills as you. Make it a request. Tell your conversation partner that you would appreciate an opportunity to be heard in a similarly respectful way.
During this conversation, don’t forget the “count to three” rule we learned as children of taking a breath and pausing for reflection when we feel ourselves getting upset or exercised over the content or direction of the discussion. Throughout the entire exchange, continue to remember that how you respond is more a reflection about yourself — your ability to have inner clarity, observation, and awareness of what is happening in the moment and choosing to use your Jedi skills to remain in a space of loving compassion for the other person’s journey rather than relenting to the compulsive knocks of your ego begging for an opportunity to unload.
It might temporarily feel better to release your anger and frustration at your uncle’s limiting beliefs, but how does that change anything? Isn’t it more interesting to try to understand what is in your uncle’s life experience that makes him think and believe the way he does and find a place of compassion for it? Is there any way that your compassion for him will open an opportunity for him to see himself through your eyes and perhaps heal an old wound that would give way to a different set of beliefs in the future?
When we are more mindful in these moments, we are more alive with the possibilities of life. Give your uncle space to surprise you. You might find out that he also thinks the President’s tweets are outrageous; that he is failing the test of moral leadership for our country; that he agrees with you that racism and sexual harassment are at a cultural tipping point for massive change in our country. He might just also be so disgusted by the political establishment rooted in both parties that he was willing to give a rabble-rouser a chance at turning everything upside down and there is a part of him that is enjoying the show. Find out what he doesn’t like about that old system. You might have points of agreement there. Perhaps you can work together to find new people in 2018 to help fix it.
Our words are the most powerful weapons on this planet. We have a giant responsibility to use them with the most loving skills we can muster. I have great gratitude for you and your courage to try to change the world.
HELPFUL RESOURCES ON CIVIL DISCOURSE
Research from Stanford University on how to reframe political arguments to connect with moral values. Plus two articles about this work in the New York Times and Atlantic Monthly.