A few years ago, social media were flooded by an orchestrated wave of stories telling us how to talk to our families about Obamacare during the holidays. “Us” in this case mostly meant pajama wearing millennials sipping fair trade coffee to ensure that a full message of enlightened smugness was conveyed.
This year, though not as highly orchestrated, there has been a smattering of posts explaining to these same fine folks how they should deal with or endure potential Trump-loving relatives during these same family dinners. Some of the veneer of smugness seems to have been washed away last November.
Now that we’ve spent two whole paragraphs riling people up and dividing family members along generational and political lines, let’s discuss for a moment what’s wrong with this entire premise.
Holidays, with friends or with family, should be a time we come together. It’s not a time to force divisiveness. It’s not a time for those whose ideas prevailed during the last election cycle to exude an aura of superiority over the people that they care about.
If you are looking at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other holiday gathering as a competitive event, you’re doing it wrong. Full stop.
That said, if you’re attending any of these events with an agenda, a lecture isn’t the way to achieve it. Instead, my holiday gift to you is this age old chestnut of wisdom:
Talk less; Listen more.
Our politics has become an exercise in conquering rather than one of convincing. If you believe you’re walking into a room of people with diverse ideas, experiences, and backgrounds knowing all that is right and true, and anyone that disagrees with you is wrong, ignorant, or even evil, then you’ve already lost the ability to convince. If you continue the floggings, morale will not improve.
Listening achieves multiple goals. First and foremost, it’s a defensive posture. You’re a lot less likely to say something that will increase a growing divide. The holidays are a time when we’re supposed to come together with the ones we love. Not figure out how to put additional distance between us.
More importantly, listening is an opportunity for learning. It’s irrelevant if the person you’re listening to is loaded up with talking points from “fake news,” or possibly fails to understand any basic tenant of economics. There’s a reason they believe what they believe, and you’re not likely to change that.
What you can learn from listening is not where they are, but what goal they’re wishing to be accomplished — and why. I’m often astonished when listening to heated arguments with vehement disagreement that the two folks are actually trying to get to the same place or have at least some overlap with a common goal, but refuse to see it.
If more people would listen to their opponents with the sole purpose to figure out what the other person really wanted, they could join the conversation at some point with an alternative view of how to get there. Even if the conversation doesn’t end in mutual agreement, it at least demonstrates goodwill on trying to solve the same problems, and take some of the edge off the presumption that everyone that disagrees must be fundamentally evil.
Ideally, this isn’t what the holidays should be about. Gatherings should be a time to remind us of our ties that bind. A time to share anecdotes from different generations. Lessons that transfer from generation to generation. And to my fellow old folks, that means we can learn some lessons from the kids too.
In short, I’m thankful that I have a group of family and friends that have honed debate and conversational skills throughout my lifetime. I’m equally thankful that holiday dinners are not command performances of these skills. The only way to win Thanksgiving should be eating just a bit too much, and making sure everyone gets a good hug when it’s time to leave.
Charlie Harper, executive director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank, is also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to state & local politics of Georgia.