Ask Miriam | Politics a Touchy Thanksgiving Topic

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Dear Miriam,

I know, I know: no politics at Thanksgiving. But aren’t there any exceptions? At all? Like, if I know the person agrees with me? Or if someone is being a huge jerk about politics, aren’t I allowed to step in? Please advise.

Signed,


On my Best Behavior

Dear Behavior,

I hear what you’re saying, and I get it. At this moment in time, avoiding any mention of politics for a whole meal, let alone a whole day or (long) weekend seems completely impossible. And it might be. Still, I encourage you to approach holiday conversations with a goal of catching up with loved ones and being pleasantly engaged, rather than looking for a loophole to talk politics as a default.

To cite your specifics, here’s a time when talking about politics may actually further your Thanksgiving goals: Let’s say you have a relative who is hard to talk to and with whom you have little in common. And let’s say that you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you agree on certain political matters. Then, bringing up politics is, in fact, a way to connect with this person. Doing so in a group setting would be a mistake, but one-on-one, sure, you’ve made a meaningful connection.

If you do find yourself talking about politics with someone who agrees with you, you still need an exit strategy if things go awry. Be prepared to say, “I guess we don’t agree on everything, but it was so nice talking with you,” or, “We should stay away from that topic.” I promise, no matter how tempting, Thanksgiving is not your chance to change someone’s mind about a controversial topic.

Now, regarding the “jerk.” If someone is loudly talking about political topics that are disagreeable to you, ignoring is a great option. Saying equally loudly, “This isn’t a great conversation for tonight,” or, “No one wants to discuss this right now,” is also an option. You can also say, especially if the discussion is directed at you, “I disagree with you strongly, but I don’t think this is the time to try to change each other’s minds.”

Avoiding politics, at its best, means not talking about specific politicians, policy decisions or, in the case of this Thanksgiving, impeachment. However, if anyone at Thanksgiving or elsewhere in your life says anything that is racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or bigoted in any way, then you have my permission to speak up. You still, probably, won’t change anyone’s mind, but you will make it clear that you don’t tolerate hateful rhetoric.

Prepare yourself with a list of things you wouldn’t mind discussing with the people you’ll see on Thursday. Then also prepare a list of people who you know you can text if you need to vent.

Be well, and happy Thanksgiving,

Miriam

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