Navigating the debates of the Thanksgiving table


This Thanksgiving, families might find a healthy dose of politics, religion and other divisive issues on the menu.

Families gather together during the holiday season and that can also mean the gathering of different views on a host of issues that have come to define our pluralistic society.

Family squabbles over church attendance or the prospects for the next presidential election are nothing new, but if it feels as if the intensity over partisan disagreements is at an all-time high, it’s because it is.

The Pew Research Center reported this year that the gap between partisan political views has nearly doubled over the past 25 years and that most Americans have moved to the left or right with fewer holding centrist views.

“A key finding from our survey this year on polarization was how much the antipathy between the parties had deepened and become more extensive,” wrote Bruce Drake, a senior editor at Pew.

With that type of increased polarization it’s likely some will find themselves sitting across the Thanksgiving table from a relative who not only has a different political view, but is as committed to their viewpoint as you are to yours.

“Be curious,” Dr. David Croninger, a local family and marriage counselor, said when asked for advice in dealing with disagreements over the holidays. “I find that about 80 percent of marital or couple arguments are based on the fact that the message that was sent was not the message that was received. I encourage couples to be curious. Rephrase back to someone what you heard and  figure out if it’s accurate.”

Keeping your mouth shut might be the best way to avoid conflict, but Croninger said a debate built around mutual respect can be a good thing.

“It’s really wise, I think, to be able to honestly and openly talk about what is real for you and what you believe,” Croninger said. “That doesn’t mean you share everything with everyone.”

OKC resident Jennifer Bell agrees that disagreements around the family go better when mutual respect is involved.

“We're all willing to listen to each others opinions and respect that we are different people with different ideas,” Bell said. “At the end of the day, love and respect go a long way in dealing with these differences. It would be silly to ever let a difference of opinion interfere with quality time together.”

While Bell might vote differently than some of her relatives, she said there is much more similarity than difference.

“I think even though we have a lot of different opinions our core values are similar and that's where we're able to find compromise,” Bell said.

Remember what you have in common — rather than your differences — can be a great way to navigate through debates during the holidays. So can some understanding that the holiday season can be challenging for many people.

“The holidays are just tough for a lot of people,” Croninger said. “A lot of people get anxious and depressed around the holidays and the season seems to bring up a lot of issues that people try not to deal with during the rest of the year.”

Compassion, understanding and respect are all good traits to have when contentious conversations arise. But so is a little humor and a decision to just talk about topics that are easy for everyone to agree with.

“I can’t imagine bothering with politics when there are so many more interesting things my parents and I can talk about during holiday dinners,” said Brian Winkeler, who admits politics can be a source of disagreement in his family. “Did you know that Mark Wahlberg’s family owns a burger joint? And there’s a TV show about it? It’s called ‘Wahlburgers.’ My parents love ‘Wahlburgers.’”

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