Jeff Ackerman: Some ground rules for topics on table this Thanksgiving
So long as there are strictly-enforced rules, Thanksgiving dinner can also include politics.
I know … politics are better discussed on Facebook, where we can “unfriend” anyone who disagrees with us. No reason to ruin a perfectly good turkey dinner because Uncle Bill wore his MAGA hat, or Mary her “FEEL THE BERN” button.
That supposes we are simply incapable of verbal communication beyond an occasional grunt, or uppercase, bold-face text … using acronyms so we don’t need to have to actually spell it out.
We are better than that, aren’t we?
Of course we are!
But … just in case we aren’t … let’s talk about some rules every Thanksgiving dinner table should include.
The most important element to good communication is not talking. I know you have a lot of things to get off your chest, but it’s perfectly fine to keep your mouth closed around your fork long enough for the person who started the conversation to finish her sentence. That’s called listening. We were given these awkward looking flaps on the side of our face for a reason. Most of us are so busy thinking about what we want to say next, we don’t listen to what is actually being said at the moment.
“We did, too, put a man on the moon!” you shout, not recognizing that Aunt Sally was actually asking for another spoon.
The guy who sold a zillion copies of a book about why successful people are better than the rest of us (Stephen Covey) reminds us to, “First seek to understand and then be understood.”
I know … it’s pretty deep. But it basically means, “shut up and let her finish.”
Once you’ve done that, let it simmer. If you need clarification, go ahead and ask.
“I’m not sure I heard you correctly,” you might begin. “Did you say Trump is the best president since Barack Obama?”
Once you’ve cleared that up, the next word out of your mouth should not be, “you,” as in, “You idiot,” or, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
People get defensive when you start with “you,” which is why they sometime counter with, “I know I am but what are you?” Once that happens the conversation goes off the rails in a hurry, like a long Facebook thread that went from an innocent photo of an elephant to vicious debate with PETA members using emoji of red, angry faces.
Better to start your sentence with an “I,” as in, “I think what you are trying to say is that Obama was a better president than Trump. There were no presidents between Obama and Trump, so how could Trump be the best president since Obama?”
That allows the other person to clarify her remark, without looking stupid, which is the whole point of clarification.
When she does that she should include specifics, or reasons why she said what she said.
On social media you don’t need to worry about specifics. You can post whatever you want, using whatever source you want, even if that source doesn’t exist.
When you are sitting at the table, surrounded by people who know you, it’s best to choose your words carefully. Especially if there are no cell phones allowed at the Thanksgiving table
And that’s tough to do when you’ve been drinking all day. Rules go right out the window when alcohol is involved. It might be a good idea to put the drunk people at a separate table, maybe over next to the kids’ table where they can mumble among themselves.
Once you have a good idea what your sister-in-law was trying to say, you are free to counter.
That sentence should also begin with an “I,” as in, “I see what you are saying and I appreciate your perspective.”
See the difference? You’ve just acknowledged your sister-in-law, while putting yourself in a perfect position to make yourself sound even smarter, so long as you don’t screw it up.
Remember your audience. After all, your sister-in-law is your wife’s sister and you don’t want to get on her bad side because she is within striking distance; the woman on your left with the carving knife.
Give examples where Obama performed better than Trump has in his first three years. These examples should probably stick to actions, such as health care, or maybe something that most humans can actually understand, since nobody I know (including Congress) bothered to read the 20,000 pages included in the Affordable Care Act.
If you are sitting downwind a bit — perhaps at the drunk table — this might be a good time to change the subject
“I’m an atheist!” someone at the drunk table might shout.
“I’m pro life!” is always a good conversation starter. Especially if you are a man and can’t have babies.
“They aren’t taking my guns!” is sure to get things really fired up.
My favorite at the holidays — best served with pie — is, “Mom always loved you best!”
On second thought, it might actually be better to just eat and nod, maybe keep an eye out for the big screen to see if the Cowboys have scored. Stomp your foot once for “yes,” and twice for “no.”
Jeff Ackerman is former publisher of The Union. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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