Aristotle once stated, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
As families gather for Thanksgiving many will feast on turkey, purchase Christmas gifts, and continue in the tradition of swapping the history of our nation’s indulgence in mass genocide with forced exchanges of gratitude (#stillmessedup).
In addition, all of us will likely engage with a family member that is some iteration of an incorrigible Bernie bro, a Hillary Clinton devotee who won’t acknowledge Wisconsin is a state, and a Trump supporter who’s willing to swamp human decency for a $1500* tax credit. (*Subject to change)
To make the conversation as fruitful as a side of mama’s home-made cranberry sauce, here are some tips to make your exchanges with the “opposition” a little less ass-holish and a little more Aristotle.
While this may sound like an easy, or perhaps excruciating endeavor, this is the most important part of exchanging ideas with those whom you disagree with. It’s apparent we often seal ourselves off and huddle into a political echo chamber. But to genuinely pop that ideological bubble we all must clench our teeth and hear people out. I don’t give credence to the idea that every opinion is valuable (i.e Hitler), but I think it’s socially prudent to try to understand how people have forged their ideas. It’s also important to ask open ending questions that reserve judgement. This often leads people to spilling out their thoughts and forcing them to realize whether their ideas were fully cultivated and well thought out.
2. Don’t indulge in False Equivalencies
It’s true there we are currently unearthing a world of apolitical repugnance. If the litany of cases involving utterly repulsive sexual predators in film, media, and politics is any indication there are several scumbag culprits from a variety of backgrounds. It is, however, pivotal to know there are varying degrees of indecency.
All too often when we try to extend an olive branch in polite civic discussions we become passive and buy into the idea of equal blame. This is a mistake. First, this fails to foster the intellectual capital these types of discussions should produce. Second, when we tend to improperly reweight the indiscretions of far more egregious actions for the sake of diplomacy, we give into the dangerous false notion that these indiscretions are far less incredulous than they really are.
For example, groping a woman while she is asleep and forcefully kissing her is horrendous. It is, however, not equivalent to being a pedophile for four decades.
3. Respectfully Repudiate
Individuals pivot around vocally challenging others during Thanksgiving time due to the peaceful spirit of the holiday. This is another mistake. For starters, even if one casts aside discussing politics, tensions are bound to arise with family. Second, if one can’t be honest and hold family to a standard of truth and decency, who can we hold accountable to these noble traits?
Third, there are certain uncontroversial truths — climate change is real, racial inequities exist, opportunities are not universal, and Beyonce can walk on water.
When one of these assumptions are challenged, I challenge you to speak up and bat down this baseless banter. We live in an age where facts are under assault — there is no nobility, nor time, to shy away from defending the truth.
4. Temper Expectations
It’s likely that, if you listen and are calmly espouse your beliefs, you will likely have a robust and insightful conversation with individuals who held different political beliefs than you. I’m confident that you may even learn something, feel more at ease with the future of the world, and find some commonality.
Basic psychology and human behavior should dissuade you from having any excitement that there will be any further benefit stemming from these types of conversations. For starters, people only change when they lose, or are about to lose, something valuable. (Read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow for further insight on this topic of changing beliefs/behaviors)
The drawback with the current climate of being over-eager to have discussions with varying political opinions is it can provide us with a false idea of omniscience along with a contrived sense of unity.
Most of us live with and/or around like-minded people. We can engage in these types of discussions and retreat to our ideological enclaves feeling we’ve ventured out enough. Further, we now live in a world where we sadly accept facts don’t persuade people, so it’s unlikely that you’ve convinced your cousin, who attends Reed College, that a 80 year Democratic-Socialist from Vermont is not an ideal 21st Century revolutionist.
5. Get to work
It is my upmost desire your Thanksgiving is filled with enriching conversations with your closest family and friends. But, I hope after you’ve come down from your pumpkin pie high you get back to doing the dirty work needed to advance Democracy.
After these conversations, one of your family member still supports the current administration despite it’s reckless incompetence, the Democratic party is still not coalescing around an attractive message, there are still hundreds of organizations doing God’s work that are under resourced, and millions still live in sub-optimal conditions.
It’s time to step into the civic arena and get your hands dirty. Conversations are starting points for progress, but by no means the ends for meaningful change. Fight for a candidate you have faith in, volunteer your time for a cause you believe in, and donate money if you can.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I look forward to hearing all about it, making sure I don’t state we had similar experiences, and calling you out when you claim you’ve convinced your grand-father that Black Lives Matter.