So you're a die-hard liberal planning to go home for Thanksgiving in red-state America. Well, pack the cigarettes and gather up the liquor, because this Turkey Day is going to be one fiery hellhole.
Aside from locking yourself in your childhood room and nestling yourself in the false comfort of nostalgia — maybe not a terrible idea! — there are steps you can take while among those with questionable political beliefs that will keep you from eyeing too closely the various cutlery within reach.
“Chances are, you're going to be celebrating Thanksgiving with the people you usually celebrate with,” says Dr. Francine Lederer, a licensed clinical psychologist. “You're going to be with your in-laws, and maybe you guys have your differences. It's something you want to be mindful of even before you travel.”
In fact, maybe you don't want to travel for the holidays at all because of these differences. This is a fine and totally justifiable act during any year, not just in the aftermath of the most divisive election in the history of mankind. But if you do end up going, the solution isn't to simply swallow hard, keep your mouth shut and forgo any and all political conversations during a weekend that is suddenly way too long.
Rather, Lederer has three recommendations for navigating the minefield between the comforting helpings of mashed potatoes and gravy. The first thing to do is consciously recalibrate yourself to the people you're with, developing an active awareness of who it is that you're speaking to. “That's going to remind you of what you might say versus what you might not say,” Lederer says. “Again, this is still your family and close friends. You still want to be respectful of the people you're interacting with.”
The second step is being aware of your own limitations. That doesn't mean knowledge of the facts — which, as you know, are no longer apparently even relevant anymore! — but rather, knowledge of what issues are trigger points for you. “If there's a particular topic that comes up that really makes you heated, and you have emotions that are triggered whenever that topic comes up, you want to set boundaries,” Lederer says. “Know at what point you're not going to continue engaging because it's just adding fuel to the fire. And then you might reach that point where you start being dismissive, or even hostile, to family members and friends.”
This is helpful in a more general way than simply with family and friends, though. If you're mindful of what topics you need to avoid (mine: “paid protesters”), then it doesn't matter whatever random new boyfriend your jerky cousin winds up bringing. “Someone might have a partner or friend who starts talking about the election, and it starts getting out of hand,” Lederer says. “What I always tell my patients in general, election or no election, is that at the end of the day we can't control the people around us. But you do have control over yourself.” If that topic comes up, feel free to step outside, remain silent, or grab a carving knife and offer warning to the rest of the table that it's in their best interest to move on to another topic. (That's a joke!)
The third tip when dealing with the hot rage is, once again, a recalibration of sorts, but this time concerning the setting you're in. “Remember what is it you're doing or celebrating,” Lederer says. “Ask yourself if Thanksgiving, or whatever celebratory setting you're in, is the time you want to start arguing and becoming tense with close families and friends around you.”
Another way to put this is: Don't just pick your battles, pick your battlefield.
If your long-term goal is to convert your in-laws or parents or whomever from their worldview to yours, maybe the best time to do so isn't when you're ostensibly supposed to be enjoying each other's company. Not only because they may not be in the proper mood to receive your perspective — holidays are stressful even without all this nonsense — but because you'd have to then spend extra time performing damage control for ruining a carefully prepared dinner.
In fact, it's not a bad idea to spend time on the plane or car ride considering other topics to discuss, if only to remind you there are other things that can be talked about. “We're going to be talking about it, but I think it's like anything, that this too shall pass,” Lederer says. “People aren't just living for the presidential election. They're living for children, spouses, careers, day-to-day things that are affecting them on a much more personal level.”