Thanksgiving Table Talk

Like millions of other Americans, I am about to celebrate Thanksgiving with a divided extended family, at least when it comes to politics.

Some of us who will convene tomorrow at my cousin’s house, myself included, are sick at heart and fearful for the country under Donald Trump. Some of us may have voted for him.

One of my younger cousins works for a prominent GOP politician, and although he announced himself early in the “never Trump” crowd, I suspect he’s feeling pretty thankful overall about the election results.

Holidays, especially Thanksgiving, are minefields in which family grievances can blow up at any moment. It’s not surprising that so many books and movies, comic or tragic, have Thanksgiving as a backdrop for shocking revelations, petty quarrels, political bickering, suicide, or murder.

All told, my holiday memories are happy and remarkably peaceful. But this year, for the first time, I’ve actually given some preparatory thought to what I’ll say when the election and its results come up—as they will.

A recent report in the New York Times said some people are skipping Thanksgiving dinner to avoid conflict or even basic contact with relatives who voted differently from them. Others are cancelling Thanksgiving altogether. But this seems to me a cowardly and self-defeating path.

I’ve long treasured family gatherings for, among other things, the opportunity to closely interact with people who are very different from me. Want real, deep down diversity, far deeper than differences in skin color or ethnicity? Chances are you won’t find it in your friends, whom you’ve chosen because they like what you like and think like you do.

It’s in your family, or your husband’s family, that you’re far more apt to encounter incomprehensible views. But as long as it doesn’t involve violence, isn’t that a good thing? How else are we ever going to learn to live with people, talk to people, and even genuinely love people we don’t understand?

Think of it, if you can, as good practice for learning to live in America for the next four years.

Now we come to how to prepare for the big day, and the New York Times, unsurprisingly, has been offering plenty of expert advice on how to talk nice around the Thanksgiving table. I know, because I read the Times religiously, like others of my elite, liberal, know-it-all ilk.

If you’re up for some serious studying, you can check out a guide the Times put together with the help of a professional facilitator for “intimate, difficult conversations.” You’ll find it under the title “How Could You? 19 Questions to Ask Loved Ones Who Voted the Other Way.”

You can even, if you have a long drive, prepare yourself by listening to a series of sample dialogues, under the heading “I Voted Clinton. You Voted Trump. Let’s Talk,” between Amy and Dawn, Aaron and Kyle, and so on and on.

Or, you could save yourself a lot of time and anguish by simply following my 95-year-old mother’s advice for conversation on any topic: “Tone is everything.”

Frankly, even if you are an Obama-loving liberal with a stack of New Yorker magazines by your bedside, like me, the pretensions of the Times can be annoying.

The conversation guide suggests you start by saying “Describe your relationship to me” and end by asking “Do you still like me?” If that isn’t enough to put anyone off Thanksgiving dinner, I don’t know what is.

I did find one useful bit of advice in the Times, in an article titled “This Thanksgiving, Be Thankful for Science.”

Of course first you have to get past the pretentiousness that “a selection of some of our favorite health and science stories from 2016 … should bring together your Trump-loving uncle and your Hillary-hailing cousin for a thought-provoking, scream-free conversation.”

Then you have to ignore the first story, “A Generous Helping of the Science of Fat.” Seriously … you think anyone, anywhere on the political spectrum, wants to talk about how “fat has more layers than you think” on Thanksgiving?

But the last story is a winner. It’s titled “If You Need a Friend, Let’s Talk About Dogs.” What could possibly go wrong there … unless someone … like me … points out that Donald Trump has apparently never had a dog?

Bethe Dufresne, a frequent contributor, is a freelance writer living in Old Mystic, Connecticut.

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