Surviving Thanksgiving with *Those* People

12I have a friend who lives a long distance from family and is considering not making the trek home for Thanksgiving. They are anxious about the conversations that will surround the table and fill the hours around the meal.

They don’t vote the way their extended family votes and they dread the offhand comments, the arguments, and the judgement that will come their way this week. The mental energy needed to absorb it all without overturning the table or damaging relationships is more than they feel they can handle right now.

This is who we are in 2018: it is wholly exhausting to share a meal or weekend with people we disagree with politically.

This reveals a deep problem within our culture, where we love our political agendas more than the people who share our blood. Where we assume everyone must think like us, or at least all the smart, loving, faithful people. Where we assign moral value to things that are morally ambivalent and justify things that are immoral as long as it’s our side doing it. Where we are more loyal to pundits and politicians than to those sharing our last name.

It’s ugly. Its unfortunate. It’s real. And many of us will spend time this week navigating these circumstances.

So how do we survive?

We can avoid any and all political talk, but that doesn’t seem likely, or helpful. We should be able to discuss these things. Politics matter and in a world where we infrequently leave our echo chambers, its important to have respectful conversations with those who think differently. Even those who are wrong.

So while we can’t control other people’s behavior and language, we can control ours. And perhaps we can set the tone and keep ourselves from becoming *those* people to folks who disagree with us.

For starters, let’s avoid blanket statements or assumptions. Don’t speak for or label entire groups of people.

“Republicans hate poor people” is not helpful, no matter how strongly you believe it. Same with “Democrats hate baby Jesus.” These things shut down conversation and put up defenses. Don’t do it. Use specific examples, not broad brushes.

Let’s ask good questions. Not, “How could you?” or “Didn’t I raise you better?” But questions that come from a place of humility and assume a posture of learning.

  • Can you tell me how you came to that conclusion?
  • Can you show me a source for that information?
  • What do you think about this?

Curiosity demonstrates that these people matter to us. We may learn something. Or perhaps they will. Good questions dig deeper and require thoughtfulness. Good questions lead to understanding.

Let’s also listen well. Hear what people are saying. Don’t formulate your argument while they are talking. Care enough about them to value their concerns.

Listening is a lost art in the age of social media and late night news. Let’s take the time to take in what is being said. At a minimum we will understand each other better. Perhaps we will hear things that aren’t all that different than what we want as well.

And for those who like me claim to follow Jesus, everything we do should be marked by love. If we can’t share a meal with our family without making hateful or bigoted or dismissive comments about *those* people, I’m not sure we are living the way we have been tasked. Disagreeing is okay. Standing up for what is right is necessary. But how we do it, how we respond, is essential to Christians.

In a handwritten sermon outline Dr. Martin Luther King Jr answered the question of why we should love our enemies. He wrote: “Because the process of hate for hate brings disaster to all involved. Because hate distorts the whole personality. Because love has within in a redemptive power.”

I’m not convinced that everyone who disagrees with me on taxes or healthcare or immigration is my enemy, but sometimes we act like they are. And for the Christian we have a clear mandate on how to respond to *those* people: love them.

Hate brings disaster but love is redemptive.

If we can’t be right and loving at the same time, we are wrong.

If we can’t hold both our political values and the people we gather with around the table, lets let go of the politics.

If we can’t speak truth in love, than our truth doesn’t matter.

If we can’t see past bad positions to care for the person in front of us, we have our priorities out of sync.

If we call people to a better way, but that way isn’t marked by love, we are lost.

This Thanksgiving, lets do better. Let’s make room. Lets be kind and loving and patient. Lets laugh and share memories and tell what we are thankful for. And lets disagree well.

Oh, and we should eat lots of pie too. That helps.

Happy Thanksgiving people. And good luck.

(It should be noted that there are indeed times to avoid people who are toxic to us. Use discretion and be aware of what is healthy for you. If some place or person is not safe for you, the advice here won’t make it any better.)

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