Opinion | Susan Knopf: Don’t go there: A guide to talking politics at the Thanksgiving table
For The Record
I was skiing with a friend who is not very active in politics and he said he and his wife feel they may have to drop some friends whose politics have become so virulent, so illogical, so vocal, they now find it difficult to spend any time with them. We all keep asking, “How do we bridge the political divide?” The answer comes from a surprising source. Bill Maher, a lefty liberal with a late night talk show, says, “Shut the #@&% up!” Don’t talk politics with people.
I have to tell you; it blew my mind. It brought me back to the concepts we’ve been talking about, acceptance of others. Maher reminded his audience that it used to be considered impolite to discuss politics. (If you know Maher, you share my shock!)
My folks always said, “Don’t talk about politics, money or religion.” It’s funny that those are the things I like to talk about most. People say I’m always poking the bear, and I just can’t understand what they’re talking about.
We’re all drawn to the taboo. Isn’t that the lure of the naughty? Here in Summit County, so many young people seem to be cultivating anything that they think their parents will find objectionable, from drug use to gauges to piercings. Seems like for some, oppositional behavior never ends. But there’s no reason for us to go there this holiday weekend.
Maher might actually be onto something. Don’t bring up stuff with friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members you know they will find disagreeable. Even the most cogent political argument is likely to fall upon deaf ears, and unlikely to flip someone’s firm political beliefs.
George Lakoff, in his book “Whose Freedom,” talks about “deeply held frames.” Lakoff demonstrates cognitive dissonance prevents people from hearing factual information that contradicts their political beliefs. So why beat our chests and offend people we otherwise might care about? I know it’s difficult. Sometime it’s hard to regard someone with respect when they are spouting staunchly held opinions that have no basis in fact and are frankly offensive. And then we have to realize that there are probably things we say and do that are just as offensive to someone else.
Sometime ago, we drove to Vail to meet some folks who were visiting from out of town. They declared forcefully there would be no political discussions, and then they proceeded to trash mouth several prominent Democratic Party leaders on a very low, personal level. It gets tiresome. My husband and I reminded them of their request. They acted childish, and defiantly retorted that their comments weren’t political just observations of the nature of the individuals. We didn’t take the bait. And I’m suggesting you don’t take the bait.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately of local Hindu leader Ravi Jaishankar’s words, “We only judge in others what we judge in ourselves. We exclude and reject others to the extent that we do it to ourselves. It is our own un-love and pain we must take self-responsibility for and ultimately integrate.” So as we tolerate, accept and even respect others we are really accepting and respecting ourselves. In just the few weeks since I’ve been considering these words and trying to apply them to my own behavior, I’ve noticed some big changes.
First, I’ve been far less aggravated than usual. Several things have happened that normally would raise my ire. And still I found ways to understand what was happening and not allow the frustration, or perceived slights to irritate me. Something really interesting happened. I felt better. Sometimes I even managed to get through it without informing the person of the issue. That’s rare for me. I pretty much think everyone is entitled to my opinion.
This holiday weekend we may want to keep those opinions to ourselves. Just don’t go there. Don’t waste your time. As Maher put it, if they haven’t figured it out about Trump yet, they’re unlikely to do so over the green bean casserole!
Of course this advice flies in the face of Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, University of California, Berkeley Professor, and prolific author. Last Thanksgiving, Reich posted on Facebook his primer teaching us how to rebut our politically misinformed relatives. Maher, on the other hand, says when he visited his uncle in Princeton as a kid, his folks never said anything at Thanksgiving dinner about the relatives’ ill considered-right wing philosophies. Not at the dinner table that is, but on the ride home he said he got an earful from his folks!
So maybe this is how we bridge the political divide with the people we otherwise care about. Just don’t go there. To quote The Beatles, “Let it be.”
Susan Knopf is a Summit County resident. She has won awards from the Associated Press and United Press International for her news reporting.
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