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A Happy and Amicable Thanksgiving

11/19/2018 05:11:18 PM


A Happy and Amicable Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is America at its best. Whether we arrived on the Mayflower, or immigrated generations later, Thanksgiving reminds us that we share a common history of redemption: We came from far away drawn by a dream of freedom. We met adversity with faith and persistence. We discovered opportunity and possibilities here. And now we share gratitude for the blessings of this land. That, together with turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, makes this the quintessential American festival.

Unfortunately, the holiday is not always so cheerful. If your family is like mine, holiday times are getting more and more difficult. We love each other and we love getting together. But the political divisions pulling our country apart are tearing at our family. We don't want to lose touch with one another, but it's hard to share a table without an argument.

One simple solution is to resolve, “No politics this year.” Suggest to your guests: We can talk about football, new movies, the fires, Game of Thrones, next summer's vacation plans… but let's keep politics to ourselves and enjoy the holiday. Assign someone the role of “Boundary Keeper” -- responsible for stopping conversations that are drifting uncomfortably close to the political tripwires.

For some families, that works. But with so much in the news, this might be difficult. Without blocking out all political talk, here are some suggestions for creating a more amicable Thanksgiving environment.

Begin with what unites us. Recite your own version of this….

“Tonight, we are gathered to share gratitude. We are grateful to have each other. We are grateful for the homes and lives we share. We are grateful for the unique and precious gifts America has brought us -- gifts of freedom, security and prosperity far beyond our ancestors' dreams. We are grateful to those who struggled, fought, and sacrificed so we could inherit these gifts. We are grateful to God for this special moment of togetherness. Whatever differences we may have brought with us tonight are not nearly as powerful as the gratitude that unites us. ”

Offer your version of House Rules. Consider these --

  1. Maintain Shalom Bayit. Tonight, everyone is responsible for this table and atmosphere that surrounds it. What will you have to do to be sure that we maintain a spirit of mutual respect and family togetherness? The Jewish value of Shalom Bayit, or “peace of the home” teaches us that the wholeness of our family and our home is more important than proving that you're right or winning an argument. Respect for the other must be communicated in everything we say tonight.

  1. Listen. The most important word in the Torah is “Shema!” Listen! Interrupting, talking over someone, rolling eyes, shouting at one another never opened anyone's mind or changed an opinion. It only communicates disrespect and pushes the other deeper into their beliefs. Listening communicates mutual respect. Listening is the essential first step in any serious conversation.

  1. Demonstrate Curiosity. No one has all the truth. Instead of immediately jumping to show someone they're wrong, find out what they believe. What deeper values underlie their beliefs? What facts are definitive? When an opinion is offered, try re-stating it: “So what you're saying is…did I get that right?” Before jumping to disagree, find and highlight your common ground: “It sounds like we can both agree that…”

  1. Disagree Without Being Disagreeable. If you are passionate about your beliefs, remember that your objective is not to destroy the other, but to persuade the other to see the world differently. Specify your places of disagreement. Offer other facts, differ about beliefs, contest values, disagree about opinions, but still express respect for the other. “I hear what you're saying, but it's clear we disagree about this…”

  1. Try the Pie. You may reach a point where you disagree totally. STOP at that point. Don't attack. Don't insult. Just observe: “We clearly don't agree on this so let's respect our differences and move on... how about some pie?”

We will not heal the divisions in the country until we learn to share a holiday table. The holiday offers an opportunity to demonstrate that possibility. There is a special joy when we can turn to one another at the end of the feast, especially those who disagree with us, and say, “Thank you. I enjoyed sharing this time with you.” That really is America at its best. Please accept our blessings for a happy Thanksgiving.

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784