2016-11-24 / Front Page

Advice for turkey table talk: self restraint

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

There’s no arguing it’s been a particularly nasty election year, but avoiding arguments at the dinner table may mean resisting the urge to talk turkey this Thanksgiving.

Gaining an understanding of how the other person is thinking rather than trying to get them to see your way of thinking may just be the key to getting along at family get-togethers this year, regardless of who voted for which candidate.

That’s according to Daniel Herd, a therapist and counselor based in Traverse City.

“Motivational reasoning is the biggest thing that’s going on,” Herd said. “It’s part of the reason we can’t see the other side.”

In motivational reasoning our brains create ‘in’ groups and ‘out’ groups and then filter all information through that lens, Herd said.

“We have the tendency to create reasons why our people are right and are being treated unfairly and why the other side is wrong,” he said.

And while it may sound trite, finding commonalities may be the key to having a conversation rather than an out-an-out clash at family gatherings this Thanksgiving.

Here’s how Herd explains it: You love your Uncle Bob, but he voted for the other guy — or gal.

“You really care about this person,” Herd said. “Use that care for someone else to believe they are making this decision not because they’re an idiot, but because they have a different set of values or a different set of experiences.”

When you talk about those commonalities you can see why they’ve made their decisions, he said. You may really want to change someone’s mind or convince them that you are right, but that’s probably not going to happen, Herd said.

That doesn’t mean you have to change your mind, he said.

“Keep a hard line on your own views,” Herd said. “Keep that in your pocket of things you won’t compromise on.”

Dennis McCaughan, a semi-retired psychologist who now lives in Cedar, agrees, adding that if talking politics is going to be problematic, it’s probably best to talk about something else.

“It doesn’t mean we have to change our minds or compromise ourselves in any way,” McCaughan said.

For the last few years McCaughan said he has been aware of a lack of kindness in our political discourse.

That was especially so in the most recent campaign.

“We have to remind each other that we’re all citizens,” McCaughan said. “We’re all participants in this country. Some things we like, some things we don’t.”

People need to remember that they are all dependent upon each other, that nobody lives in a vacuum.

“We all have a kind of mutual dependency, no matter what our differences are,” he said. “We’re all in this together and we all rise and fall together.”

McCaughan said this year’s campaign brought out a lot of anger, which he says is a more exciting and more popular emotion. It’s easier to be provocative, outrageous and righteous than to be kind and respectful, he said.

But anger is often an expression of deep sadness and frustration, he said. With it, there is an undercurrent of fear and disappointment.

“I think we need to be especially sensitive to that,” McCaughan said.

Being kind requires self-restraint.

“This might be a good time to exercise that particular muscle,” he said.

Herd suggests that while you’re at that dinner table, talk about the values that you and Uncle Bob share, rather than the political party or the candidate you disagree on.

Set some boundaries ahead of time. Know when to leave a conversation, where your cut-off point is. That may mean asking your spouse or your sister to kick you under the table or send you a text when you’re getting close to the line.

“Have a partner who can call you out if you’re going too far,” he said.

Another suggestion is to do an activity while you are communicating, like cooking together or going for a walk. Being busy doing something will allow you to focus more on what you’re doing and less on the emotional aspect of the conversation.

A good workout before the family get-together is not just physically healthy, it will also help to get rid of some of that emotional energy, he said.

In the end, Herd said, the day may require more alcohol or less alcohol, depending on how you handle it.

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In my family (I am 65 now) we

In my family (I am 65 now) we would have turkey dinner and then retreat to the living room to talk about events. Here's a shocker for you, we would even talk politics's, and at the end we all respected each other opinion's. Seven different families with different political views and when it was all said and done we walked away respecting each other although we disagreed on politics. Now, I can't even discuss the issue of politics because the tolerance of liberals is non existent! We have to walk on egg shells. The free exchange of ideas is non-existent! Now that I am a conservative I choose not to have an intellectual discussion of ideas with liberals anymore because they are rabbit in their beliefs. BTW;I was a liberal during my early days in life and I would debate the issues with the conservatives in the family and they held no ill feelings and I held none against them. Sad that doesn't occur anymore at family gatherings!

Remember, you have a choice

Remember, you have a choice of what comes out of your mouth. Once out, you cannot take it back. And it is possible to ruin your life with your mouth. To help prevent this, realize that conflicts are inevitable but arguing is optional. If you have to say something, first consider it is usually better to be kind than trying to be right. Try listening more and speaking less. After all, when you speak, you are just saying what you already know. When you listen, there's a chance you could learn something. Finally, don't take whatever someone else says personally. You have no idea what is in their brain or why they are saying it. Their words are a reflection of them, not you. If anger is present, reason and logic usually are not. Develop a plan on staying cool. Regard others as a gift and be grateful you are present to enjoy the gathering.

Thanksgiving 'leftovers' not

Thanksgiving 'leftovers' not available yet. So, here are a couple leftover thoughts on the above: Someone else is happy with less than you have. It is hard to win an argument with a smart person. It is almost impossible to win an argument with a stupid person. So why argue to begin with?