Are you wondering how you’re going to navigate the family affairs this post-election Thanksgiving? Is the thought of sharing a drink with your Trump-voting brother-in-law stressing you out? Are you dreading having to pretend your mom’s #MakeAmericaGreatAgain doormat doesn’t make you want to burn down her house? Are you wondering how you can possibly have a civil meal with the bigoted, racist, whateverphobes you’re forced to call your family?
As someone who comes from a very diverse family – filled with born-again Christians, atheists, Republicans, Democrats, black people, white people, straight-arrows and black sheep – I have some advice to help you through this Thanksgiving holiday with people who probably seem like aliens to you right now.
- Ask questions – Not about the election or why your dumb relative was such a dumbhead that they voted for the wrong dummy and made America super dumb. Ask about their lives, their jobs, their families. Inquire. When you seem genuinely interested in the life and well-being of another person you’ll find said person a lot more easy-going and genteel. There’s no better way to disarm a potential “foe” than to earnestly inquire about who they are and what their lives are like. You may even learn something you never knew before.
- Instead of assuming the worst, assume the best – Try not going into the day with a list of hateful attributes and complaints. Instead of assuming your great-Uncle Bill voted for Trump because he hates Mexicans and babies, assume he voted for Trump because he’d like his taxes lowered so he can freely give more of his own earnings directly to Mexicans and babies. Instead of assuming your cousin Tara voted for Hillary because she’s a man-hating, feminazi hag who just wants other people to pay for her IUDs, assume she voted for Hillary because she sincerely fell in love with the idea of being a part of history. Assume she knew Hillary’s shortcomings but wanted to be able to tell her daughter one day that she voted for the first female president just like she voted for the first black president.
- Find common ground – Maybe your brother’s girlfriend is a firm believer in Hollow Moon theory, but what else is she interested in? Chances are she has one or two other interests. It doesn’t have to be deep. Do you both watch “Real Housewives of Sioux City”? Do you both hate Crocs? Do you both have a secret desire to be in beauty pageants? Both hate marshmallows in your sweet potatoes? Find the common thread and go from there. You don’t have to go any deeper than that. It’ll only be for a few hours. But you might be pleasantly surprised how much you actually have in common.
- Don’t be an a$$hole – My life motto: Don’t start nuthin’, won’t be nuthin’. Don’t be that person.
- Don’t assume it’s your job to correct every “wrong” person in your family – Not only is it condescending, it’s useless. You can’t change a mind in a Facebook thread or a Twitter argument, you sure aren’t going to do it at a 3 hour dinner. Just figure out how to be okay with the people around you not “getting it”. You’ll survive. I promise.
- Concentrate on the sweet things – Your relatives are not their votes. They’re just like you. They live and love and fight and cry. Some of them might volunteer in their communities in ways you’ve never thought of doing yourself. Some of them might just be kind listeners or good at math and can help you with your Thanksgiving break homework. No one is all of one thing and none of the other. Humans are complicated creatures. Dig a little.
- Don’t be arrogant – You are not the end all be all of intelligence on this earth. Hard to believe, but it’s true. Try a little humility. Learn something. Or at the very least, don’t assume it’s your job to teach something. Just chill.
- Go with an attitude of gratefulness – Not smarmy gratefulness. Not “I’m so grateful I’m not an idiot Trump voter” or “I’m so grateful I don’t have to be like these morons I’m eating with”, but a genuine gratefulness. Perhaps you’re grateful for your job or your mom’s stuffing or an encouraging word from your dad. Maybe you’re grateful for your cat or your apartment or the $20 you found on the ground on the way over. It doesn’t matter. There has been solid research done that shows if you concentrate on thankfulness, you are much more likely to feel positive feelings about your life and those around you.
This last week there have been a ton of posts on how to tolerate your relatives who voted for Trump/Hillary and almost all of them have been grossly condescending. They lead with the idea that your political views are superior to theirs. That’s not the right way to approach a holiday meant to remind us for one day of our blessings and not our troubles. We can all set aside our self-righteousness for a few hours in the name of a peaceful family dinner.
And if you do, you might even find you like your family more than you thought.