Is there someone you are not inviting to Christmas dinner this year because of their politics? Do you find yourself strategically inviting or disinviting relatives based on their rhetoric? If so, you are in good company.
With the holidays upon us, many people have mixed feelings about impending family gatherings. Sure, you love spending time with your in-laws and extended family — as long as it is not for an extended period of time.
This year includes an additional family planning goal: avoiding political discord during Christmas dinner. Because unless you are fortunate enough to belong to a family that is politically homogenous, holiday festivities can turn into town hall forums for the expression of disparate political beliefs.
Many of you learned this lesson over Thanksgiving: politics and poultry do not mix. This week, you run the risk of experiencing the same divisive dynamic around the Yule log as political conversation erupts into controversy. Unless you take proactive steps to keep the peace.
Engaging the Captive Audience
Everyone knows that the Christmas dinner table is not a debate stage. Yet it is a tempting forum for political discussion because of the captive audience. Even if you have a dispassionate family member willing to step up and moderate, the nature of the topics involved are unpleasant, to say the least. Allegations of sexual assault, witch-hunts, collusion, calls for impeachment or resignation. Nothing that adds value to a Christmas celebration.
And regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, you likely have a family member who disagrees with you. Perhaps vehemently. The goal is to proactively plan your holiday celebration in a fashion that prevents or minimizes disruption. Here are a few suggestions.
The Art of the Deal
Without actually quoting the book title (to avoid inflaming relatives who are not fans of the author), engage in a little deal making yourself if the topic of politics heats up by suggesting, “This is an important discussion, why don´t we have it a bit later?” Or sweeten the offer, “This topic is perfect to accompany the top shelf brandy I saved for after dinner on the patio.”
A more subliminal deal making strategy to keep conversation civil is to strategically place (age appropriate) children at the main table for dinner instead of hiding them at the kids table in another room. These precious little distractions can serve as subconscious reminders to the adults in the room to act the part and mind their manners. No one wants to model bad behavior by using harsh language or engaging in emotional outbursts.
Again, your negotiation skills come into play here as well, “Let´s keep it upbeat in front of our impressionable young future leaders. I am eager to hear what you have to say after they have gone to bed.”
Redirect With Respect
If despite the precautions, the Christmas table rhetoric ramps up, redirect with respect. A family member who graciously agreed to host Christmas dinner might be tempted to announce, “House rules: no politics at the table.” Yet there are softer, more graceful ways to achieve the same goal. How about “I promised grandma we would not talk politics tonight.” Or you can remind everyone that the focus of Christmas gatherings is to spend time with family “I promise we will discuss this later, I have not seen Aunt Julie in ages!”
Or consider using what I call the reverse selfie — switch the focus to a positive fact about the problem relative. “Hey cousin Jim, speaking of the President´s latest tweet about saving American jobs, tell everyone about your great new promotion!”
When the Problem Is You
If you are the one who wants to talk politics, consider that you are not going to change a family member´s political beliefs in the middle of your holiday dinner. The internet´s virtual court of public opinion is a far safer venue to air your ideology. Within your household, avoid animosity, and stick to egg nog. Have a Merry Christmas.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 2,500 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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