Polls and Poultry
Having moved from polls to poultry just in time for Thanksgiving, we are still facing political unrest as more election lawsuits loom. So we ask ourselves the same question we asked last year (and the year before): should we ban political discussion around the holiday dinner table?
Because many people are passionate about politics, you might not want to automatically ban partisan banter (or hats reflecting one's political leanings for that matter).
Even if you anticipate a palette of colorful personalities around the table, there may still be a way to enjoy both good company and good conversation.
Celebrate Everyone Coming to the Table
Instead of counting chairs and strategizing a seating chart to separate people based on political proclivities, count your blessings that you have so many people to invite.
Remember that many holiday revelers want to talk politics; and it is not all about the candidates. Elections raise the types of kitchen-table issues that matter to everyone.
Topics like jobs, healthcare, the economy, education, and the new COVID-19 vaccine are subjects that concern all of us, are valuable to discuss, and are highly likely to come up.
Banning political banter due to fear of a (verbal) brawl may unduly stifle lively, pleasurable conversation. But artful topic navigation depends on the communication skills of the speakers.
As a career trial attorney, I am obligated to ensure that professional debate does not devolve into personal attacks. Transferring skills from the courtroom to the dining room, Christmas dinner conversation should be geared to focus on issues, not individuals. Partisan political ideology should not detract from the love and loyalty of friends and family.
Hot Buttons and Hot Plates
For guests and hosts who are passionate about social and political issues, it's frustrating to be told what topics are or are not permissible at the table.
But, we can't deny that at least within some families, there may be good reasons to avoid certain topics with certain people, because not everyone has mastered the art of civil discourse.
Research corroborates this observation.
Katherine Qianwen Sun and Michael L. Slepian (2020) in their aptly titled study, "The Conversations We Seek to Avoid," introduced what they termed the Topic Avoidance Process Model.
It proposed two distinct processes to use when a conversation partner broaches a topic the other partner seeks to avoid. They recognize such avoidance may stem from different motivations, and result in different emotional responses.
Avoiding conflict may prompt a desire to leave the conversation, prompting annoyance.
Privacy concerns may lead a conversation partner to remain quiet, creating anxiety.
Although Sun and Slepian studied conversation and emotion in the workplace, their findings arguably would apply to our Christmas dinner conversation as well.
They found that not surprisingly, many people seek to avoid having conversations about topics such as politics, religion, money, and sex.
They also note that for most employees, there is at least one domain in which they perceive they are in the minority. This can include anything from background, to hobbies, to personal preferences, to demographics.
This can lead to concern that they will not fit in with the rest of the group if they discuss or reveal hidden social identities. Although Sun and Slepian give examples of sexual orientation and multi-racial backgrounds, we can imagine that political proclivities may similarly lead to reticence rather than assertiveness, depending on the social setting.
Rapport and Respect: Issues, Not Individuals
People who have mastered the art of civil discussion with tact and respect are well-equipped to discuss topics that matter. Civility sparks stimulating, safe conversation.
Yet in deciding whether you will entertain holiday partisan chatter, it depends on who you are inviting. If you are anticipating a like-minded political caucus, have at it.
But, if you anticipate a larger group of colorful personalities, consider designating the main event a politics free zone . . . perhaps designating a lively debate arena outside after dinner — with red and other hats welcome.
Portions of this article were originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, PhD, is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Her over 4,500 media appearances include major news outlets including CNN, Fox News Channel, HLN, FOX Business Network, and weekly appearances on Newsmax. She is author of Red Flags (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House, revision). 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 professionally with a rock band. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patrick's Reports — More Here.
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