Normalize uncomfortable conversations this holiday season

Thursday, November 19, 2020 - 3:43pm

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Quote card by Opinion

As many begin to head home for the holidays, it has become clear that this year will look different. If you are planning to safely reconnect with family this holiday season, there is bound to be tension regarding any discussion from a year that is seemingly a simulation gone rogue. Despite the largely-acknowledged principle of avoiding controversial talk at the Thanksgiving table, complicated conversations are essential this year more than ever before — especially when held with those you don’t agree with. 

My family and I are about as close as a family can be (maybe even a little closer than that). My parents are my friends, my siblings are my confidants and our family group chat — appropriately named “My Insane Family” — is inundated daily with memes, pictures of my nieces and occasionally something political or controversial. While we all share very similar moral values, it comes as a surprise to many who know how tight-knit my family is that our politics are not all aligned. While I won’t divulge personal information about any of my family members, I will instead use my personal experience as an encouragement to anyone heading home to a politically-heterogeneous household. 

Before doing so, it would be ignorant of me to not give recognition to the divisive, polarizing atmosphere in which we live. Whether it be demanded recounts, a lack of concession from President Donald Trump or the vastly different opinions my Facebook feed has seen as a response to these actions, it is imperative to address the privilege that comes with accepting a difference of opinion. 

There are differences of opinion and then, in a very separate bucket, there are values which cannot be decided on personal opinion and instead are matters of right or wrong. For example, while tax policy is a matter of debate, the right for LGBTQ+ people to get married is a matter of values — equality, equity, discrimination and opportunity are non-negotiable. With that established, rethink your Thanksgiving table political conversation.

Admittedly, the Thanksgiving table is not the best place or time for these conversations. However, “nowhere” and “never” are also not sufficient replacements. Complicated conversations help us grow; they allow us to develop our own perspectives and attempt to see a complex issue from different angles. I recommend establishing a time and place that feels comfortable and open. Sometimes the best conversations require ground rules to ensure everyone feels like they have a safe space to communicate. 

At the end of the day, without a difference of opinion, the world would be mundane and resemble a page from a young adult dystopian novel. As human beings, we pride ourselves on our ability to produce and share unique thoughts. If we cannot find the power to acknowledge the other side of an argument, all hope in ending or mending the divisiveness plaguing every sector of life would truly be gone. 

There is a way to have these conversations and there are endless reasons to have them. So instead of banning off-color conversation, encourage open dialogues this holiday season. Find a safe space and be open-minded. 

It can be extremely difficult to look past my own ideology sometimes. My brother and I have been at a verbal duel to the death over issues we will never agree on. However, I know we are both better for having those challenging conversations; we exposed ourselves to another line of thinking and in doing so, garnered a better understanding of our own perspectives.

Jess D’Agostino can be reached at jessdag@umich.edu


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