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Preparing For Thanksgiving With People Whose Viewpoints Are Not Like Your Own

Important: The group, “Stand up for Racial Justice” is committed to helping you over your Thanksgiving meal. Go here for info on how to access the resources they are committing to helping you, and check out the text SOS system they have put in place to help you during your Thanksgiving meal. 

This is particularly useful. If you read nothing else, go to that link and read it first.

Or print out this placemat and carry it with you to the dining table. 

While you’re at it, give a donation to SURJ to support their important and helpful work.

This has been a contentious political season, I think we can all agree. Some of us won, and some of us lost on election day. Some of us are scared, some angry, some hurt, some righteous, some victorious. And some of all of those people may be at your Thanksgiving table. So, how to have a clear, but civil dialogue over a wee bit of Tofurkey and dressing? Because it’s important. We can’t continue to not speak up, and we can do so and have a greater impact if we learn to do so effectively rather than just get angry and throw gravy at one another or screechy-scream-scream.

If we’re going to be advocates for the people most likely to be harmed by the incoming administration – namely, people with disabilities, people of color, Muslims, other non-Christian religions, women, people who are LGBTQIA, and so on – we need to be effective advocates. Sputtering at Uncle Joe when he tells a racist joke at Thanksgiving dinner is not effective. (Instead, stare at him and say, slowly, “Uncle Joe, I just don’t see the truth in that” and “Can you explain the ways in which you believe that is funny?”)

As Stand Up for Racial Justice has said in the materials posted above – read them now: “Right now, as white people, we have to resist the urge to retreat. White people — men and women alike, mostly those with economic privilege — put Trump in the White House. We must organize and reach people, specifically the people who we have not yet reached. We cannot wait for people of color to tell us what to do.” This means we must speak up, engage across difference, and let our voices be heard. Yes, with our families. Yes, with our friends who voted for Trump.

First, understand what your goal is at Thanksgiving. Is it to simply survive it, and in so doing, to have a pretend relationship with the people with whom you are eating? Is it to understand more about your relatives and friends? Is it to make clear your own perspective, and invite dialogue about it? Knowing your intention is important and will determine your next steps. And I hope your core intention is to be a clear and calm beacon for social justice in the myriad of ways that topic may and most likely will emerge on Thursday.

Here’s the thing. If you keep your mouth shut to protect the relationship, it’s a relationship built on a lie. Have an honest conversation about things that matter, or don’t pretend you’re in a relationship. You’re in a pattern, not a relationship.

If your intention is to be clear about your perspective and engage in dialogue that will help you understand the perspective of others, then you must first understand what dialogue is, and what debate is, and be prepared to suggest which is acceptable at your table, and which is not. This handy-dandy table might help distinguish between the two. Perhaps a handout of this for each guest wouldn’t be uncalled for. Or maybe you could print it on fabric, and use it as napkins.

debate_dialogue_chart_t670

What are behaviors that support dialogue?

Suspension of judgment while listening and speaking. When we listen and suspend judgment, we open the door to expanded understanding. When we speak without judgment, we open the door for others to listen to us.

Statement made over gravy: “Trump is going to make America great again!”

Kneejerk reaction: “Yeah, for white people. You’re a racist.”

Possible Dialogue reactions: “That’s interesting. Tell me more about how he’s going to do that, and what ‘being great again’ means to you.” “What do you believe needs fixing, and how is he going to do that, do you think?” “Some people believe that making America great again really means ‘making America white again.’ I’m sure you don’t mean that, but I’m curious what you do mean by it.” “Can you help me understand what you mean by that?”

Statement made over cranberry sauce: “These damn foreigners have taken all our jobs. He’ll put an end to that and put real Americans back to work again!”

Kneejerk reaction: “You mean, he’s going to create jobs for Native Americans?” or “Like all the Chinese people who created his ‘Make America Great Again’ hats?”

Possible Dialogue reactions: “What an unusual perspective, given that this country is a nation of immigrants, including our family. What direct experience do you have of jobs being lost to the people you call “foreigners” who are often U.S. citizens themselves?” “What kinds of jobs do you believe Trump is going to bring back for U.S. workers, and what do you think the economic impact of that might be?”

Respect for differences. Our respect is grounded in the belief that everyone has an essential contribution to make and is to be honored for the perspective which only they can bring.

Statement made over green bean casserole: “He’s gonna show all the n*ggers what their place is.”

Kneejerk reaction: “Wow, I had no idea I was raised by White Supremacists!”

Possible Dialogue reactions: “First, I won’t continue this dialogue or this dinner if you use that word to describe people of color. If you do use that word again, you will need to leave (or if you are being hosted by someone who is using the word, “I will need to leave.” Then follow through if it is used again.) Secondly, tell me what you believe their place is, and how you have come to that conclusion. After I hear your viewpoint, I’ll be glad to share mine.”

Role and status suspension. Again, in dialogue, all participants and their contributions are absolutely essential to developing an integrated whole view. No one perspective is more important than any other. Dialogue is about power with, versus power over or under.

Statement made over sweet potato casserole with tiny marshmallows: “Well, I’m your father, and I’m in charge of what we believe in this house.”

Kneejerk reaction: “The word ‘father’ doesn’t mean ‘dictator.’”

Possible Dialogue reactions: “I respect your place as the head of this household, and I love you, but if we truly want to understand one another’s perspective, that kind of power-holding won’t allow us to do that. Let me share my perspective…” “I love you, and I’m an adult now, with my own opinions and perspectives, thanks to you. So I’d prefer to share those….”

Balancing inquiry and advocacy. In dialogue we inquire to discover and understand one another’s perspectives and ideas, and we advocate to offer our own for consideration. The intention is to bring forth and make visible assumptions and relationships, and to gain new insight and understanding. We often tend to advocate to convince others of our positions. Therefore, a good place to start with this guideline is to practice bringing more inquiry into the conversation.

Statement made over pumpkin pie: “All lives matter. This ‘Black Lives Matter’ bullshit is dividing the country.”

Kneejerk reaction: “God, if I have to explain this ONE MORE TIME.”

Possible Dialogue reactions: “Can you help me understand how you came to believe that?” “I’m curious about why the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ seems so confrontational to you?” “Do you believe that ‘Black Lives Matters’ means that ‘only’ Black Lives matter, and if so, can you tell me why do you believe that?” “Does saying, ‘we need to save the rainforest’ imply that ONLY the rainforest needs to be saved?”

Focus on learning. Our intention is to learn from each other, to expand our view and understanding, not to evaluate and determine who has the “best” view. When we are focused on learning, we tend to ask more questions, try new things. We are willing to disclose our thinking so that we can see both what is working for us and what we might want to change. We want to hear from all parties so that we can gain the advantage of differing perspectives.

Statement made over coffee: “Women are not strong enough to be President.” or “Hillary is corrupt and evil.”

Kneejerk reaction: “You’re an idiot and a sexist and you watch too much Fox News.”

Possible Dialogue reactions: “Help me understand your perspective on that. What experiences have you had that lead you to that conclusion?”

What is often at play during holidays with family, for example, are old habits and patterns about how we interact together, whether we rock the boat, or not. This holiday season, be open to changing those patterns. Disrupt. Rock in a way that no one falls overboard, but everyone feels heard. It’s important that we talk about these things. Is it comfortable? No, but neither is racism, xenophobia, white supremacy, sexism, sexual assault, Islamophobia, homophobia, and a myriad of other -isms that have been a part of this election season. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Have hard conversations with grace, dignity, and an eye to learning, not damning, shaming, or winning.

James Carse has written a fascinating book called “Finite and Infinite Games,” in which he posits that we are always either playing a finite game (played to win, in order to end the game) or an infinite one (played to learn, in which the goal is to keep the game going). Your goal is to play an infinite game, to be clear about your own perspectives in order to have a fully adult relationship with the others at your table, and with an emphasis on learning. This election has shown us, among other things, that NOT having these conversations is dangerous.

I asked my Facebook friends for real statements they have heard and want help responding to over the holiday, and I offer some of them here, with my suggested responses.

I will begin with several phrases that I suggest you have at hand for situations in which you’d like to let your perspective be known without inviting further “debate”:

  • “I don’t see the truth in that.” – This is useful when a specious argument is put forward, when a racist (or otherwise inappropriate) joke is told, or when you’d like to simply let it be known that you are not “going along with” the rhetoric of the day.
  • “Thank you for sharing your perspective. You have been heard.” – This is a useful end to a conversation. It tells the person you’ve heard them, and implies that no further hearing is required or desired. Repeat, if necessary.
  • “Help me understand…” – This is useful in responding to a statement you wholeheartedly disagree with, but provides a way to open up the dialogue rather than shut it down. And it’s important for all of us to understand more deeply.
  • And, as a general rule, ask more questions than make statements. Ask, ask, ask, ask. Your goal is to learn, not to win. There is no “winning.” What would happen if you gave up your need to be right?

Here are the situations/statements that Facebook friends surfaced have happened:

“Shhh. No politics allowed.”

Inside your head: “So, we should continue to talk about Aunt Jessie’s new stove while the world is on fire. Got it!”

Out of your mouth: “While I certainly don’t want to turn Thanksgiving into a political debate, I think as adults, we can surely have dialogue about a topic as important as the future of our country, don’t you?”

“Give him a chance.”

Inside your head: “I’ll give him a chance when he stops being a lying, sexist, racist, narcissistic, jerk.”

Out of your mouth: “I’m open to both giving him a chance and holding him accountable for some of the racist and other troubling statements he has made. How about you? How will you actively be giving him a chance and holding him accountable?”

“We love you but not your choices.”

Inside your head: “I *am* my choices.”

Out of your mouth: “I appreciate your love, and I love you too, but as an adult, I’ve learned that unconditional love is what all people need, and I’d rather you love all of me, without separating ‘me’ from my ‘choices,’ which is really impossible to do and negates large parts of who I am. Is that something we can talk about and get some clarity on?”

“We all just need to come together now.”

Inside your head: “Seems like you want us all to come to where YOU are.”

Out of your mouth: “I’m curious about your use of the word, ‘all.’ Given Mr. Trump’s recent appointments of people with proven track records as racists and anti-Semites, I wonder if ‘all’ really means ‘all,’ because I know that my friends who are people of color, LGBTQIA, and otherwise in a minority aren’t feeling safe now, much less in a position to ‘all come together.’ What might you do to help them feel safe?”

“I didn’t vote for Trump; I voted against Hillary.”

Inside your head: “You need to take a logic course, dude.”

Out of your mouth: “Can you help me understand the logic behind that statement and how you believe that played out in the election results?”

“I’m not racist but…”

Inside your head: “Umhmm.”

Out of your mouth: “Did you know that the word ‘but’ in a sentence really serves to negate anything that came before it?” “Is there a reason you felt you needed to clarify that statement with ‘I’m not a racist”?

“Trump is God’s choice.” “God’s hands were in this election.” “God answered my prayers.”

Inside your head: “**blink, blink**”

Out of your mouth: “I applaud your religious beliefs and am glad you have that solace to turn to. In this case, I wonder what God is going to be using Trump for, exactly. What are your thoughts on that?”

“I can’t believe nobody has shot that n— yet.”

Inside your head: “Oh no, you didn’t.”

Out of your mouth: “First, I don’t accept the use of the “n” word, and if it is used again, I will leave with my family (or I will ask you to leave, if I’m hosting.) Secondly, I’m sorry that you feel the need to invoke violence against another human being. That must weigh heavily on your heart, at the end of the day. Thirdly, can you explain why you said this?”

“I didn’t really like him but he is going to surround himself with really good people.”

Inside your head: “You’re an idiot.”

Out of your mouth: “I’m curious, then, about your opinions of his appointments thus far, all men with proven racist backgrounds. How do you think he’s doing so far in surrounding himself with really good people?”

“Stop being a coddled, sensitive liberal with such a fragile ego…”

Inside your head: “Well, bless your little heart.”

Out of your mouth: “I wonder what would happen if we both dropped our stereotypes of the other?”

“You’re voting with your vagina?”

Inside your head: “You did not just say that.”

Out of your mouth: “Well, thanks so much for asking, but no, I’m not. What body part did you vote with?”

“But nobody is as racist as Obama!”

Inside your head: “You really have no idea what ‘racism’ means, do you?”

Out of your mouth: “I really curious about why you believe this. Can you tell me what specifically leads you to this opinion?”

“I was afraid 8 years ago!”

Inside your head: “Because an intelligent black man was taking office?”

Out of your mouth: “I’m sorry you were afraid. I know how that feels. What were you afraid of?”

“We need to protect our borders.”

Inside your head: “Where the hell do you think your family came from?”

Out of your mouth: “Can you tell me why you believe this, and how you believe we should do this?”

“He doesn’t really mean what he says.”

Inside your head: “So, you’re okay with a habitual liar in the White House?”

Out of your mouth: “And you’re okay with that? How do you think we should judge what is real and not real, then?”

“Yes, I voted for him. Do you think I’m a racist?”

Inside your head: “I think that racism isn’t a deal-breaker for you.”

Out of your mouth: “I’m not inclined to say that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, but I do know that given his track record of racist remarks and behavior, anyone who voted for him must have decided, at some level, that his racism wasn’t a deal-breaker. Why, do you think you’re a racist?”

“Well, you know, Hillary is just as bad.”

Inside your head: “AYFKM?”

Out of your mouth: “Actually, I don’t know that, but I’d love to hear why you believe that.”

“If you were a Christian . . . ” or “If you were a REAL Christian . . . . “

Inside your head: “Give me strength.”

Out of your mouth: “I’d love to hear more about this line of reasoning. Can you tell me more about what a real Christian is and isn’t?”

“Now you know how we felt when Obama won. You’ll survive.”

Inside your head: “I’m sure you have no idea how laughable that statement is.”

Out of your mouth: “Thanks for that vote of confidence. What did you do when Obama won to support him in doing his job well for the sake of the country, because maybe I can do some of the same now?”

“Chill out… he won, she would’ve destroyed our country.”

Inside your head: “I’m chill. You should see me when I really get worked up.”

Out of your mouth: “In what ways do you believe she would have done that?”

“You’ll be fine…”  “You’re so sensitive. Get over it.”

Inside your head: “Don’t tell me what to do.”

Out of your mouth: “I have no doubt that I’ll be fine. And I have no doubt that ‘get over it’ is not what I need to do. Instead, I believe that I need to speak up for minority groups in our country who cannot rely on such an assurance that all will be fine, given Trump’s proposed treatment of them. And I’d suggest that if you have a problem with that, you get over it.” (Okay, this last bit is not necessarily what I suggest you say, but damnation.)

“Oh you’re just quite the democratic-progressive-libtard-tree-hugging-activist-hippie-atheist now aren’t you?”

Inside your head: “You forgot vegan.”

Out of your mouth: “Yes, yes I am. And you? How would you describe yourself?” “Also, can you explain your use of the word ‘libtard’ and where that comes from, because I’m sure you don’t mean to invoke the word, ‘retard.’”

“Hoping for a president to fail is like hoping for the pilot of your aircraft to crash. The people have spoken, you lost–suck it up.”

Inside your head: “Did you or did you not hope and work for Obama to fail? And yes, the people have spoken and Hillary won the popular vote.”

Out of your mouth: “I’m not hoping for anyone to fail, but I would have preferred a pilot who had at least flown a plane before. Since that didn’t happen, I’m curious about what you will be doing to help him succeed?”

“Build that wall.”

Inside your head: “I’ll build a wall with you in it.”

Out of your mouth: “I’m curious about what you believe a wall will accomplish?” “Have you ever heard of the Berlin Wall? What do you think that accomplished?”

“Trump didn’t win, Hillary didn’t lose … because this election wasn’t really about them as individuals. The American People were sick of being lied to by the Washington establishment and the media … THAT was the silent majority and movement. Americans aren’t racist, xenophobic, misogynistic or homophobic and don’t let ANYONE tell you that!! We are a great nation filled with brilliant men and women that will rise together and work together to get us where we need to be. Hug your neighbor, hug your kids, tell them we must move forward as one and let bygones, be bygones. Let’s give him a chance to Make America Great and God bless America!!!!”

Inside your head: “poof”

Out of your mouth: “Thank you for sharing your perspective. You have been heard.”

“This is all Obama’s fault.”

Inside your head: “You’re an idiot.”

Out of your mouth: “I don’t see the truth in that, so I’m curious about how you’ve come to that conclusion.”

“If you so much as mention politics, it will be disastrous!”

Inside your head: “Let’s try it, and see!”

Out of your mouth: “So, are you saying that as adults, we are incapable of having a dialogue across difference?”

“You’re doing the very thing you say you are against by lumping everyone who voted for Trump together as racists.”

Inside your head: “When I am president, every citizen will be required to take a logic course.”

Out of your mouth: “Shall we just say, then, that people who voted for Trump voted for a racist?”

“I had to vote for him for the safety of my family and this nation.”

Inside your head: “Let me know how that works out for you.”

Out of your mouth: “I’m sorry you don’t feel safe. In what ways don’t you feel safe?”

“Why can’t you just get over it. The election is over. There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’ve always had racism.”

Inside your head: “We’ve always had cancer, too. Shall we try to cure it or just live with it?”

Out of your mouth: “What would you like me to get over?” “And help me understand your statement, ‘there’s nothing to be afraid of.’ What do you mean by that, in this context? And can that be said of all people, do you think?”

“People like you are making this county so divisive and egging people on rather than promoting unity.”

Inside your head: “People like you are giving me high blood pressure.”

Out of your mouth: “In what way am I ‘egging people on’?” and “How would you suggest we address the very real divisions we have in this country? By ignoring them?”

“You are doing students no favors by offering healing/safe spaces rather than teaching them how to be adults who can handle losing.”

Inside your head: “You probably leave your dogs chained out all year.”

Out of your mouth: “I see. Thank you so much for clarifying that for me. I’ll remember that the next time a Democrat wins and the Republicans make obstructing his every move their mission in life.” (Okay, I wouldn’t suggest saying that, but wow.) I would suggest saying this: Thank you for sharing your perspective. You have been heard.

We all know what we want to say, or what comes up for us first, those inside the head parts. But as adults who know what is at stake, it’s incumbent on us to work harder to be clear, heard, and understood – and to work harder to hear and understand. We cannot hear each other if we are calling each other idiots. We cannot be effective advocates for positive change if we are spending our time demonizing the other. We must learn new ways to disagree, be active advocates for social justice, and develop new relationships with our families and friends, rather than fall back on the old patterns that have led us to this point.

On this Thanksgiving, give thanks for your capacity to speak up, and take action that will be focused less on “winning” than on creating a better future for all. All.