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Conservative Review

Thanksgiving is a time for thanks, not political pugilism

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” —G.K. Chesterton

In preparation for Thanksgiving dinner debates, Dr. Karin Tamerius has developed an “Angry Uncle Chat Bot” designed to help people prepare themselves for the big day. Here’s what she has to say about it at the New York Times:

Many of us aren’t accustomed to socializing with people who think differently from us, especially about politics. Our political attitudes and beliefs are intertwined with our most basic human needs – needs for safety, belonging, identity, self-esteem and purpose – and when they’re threatened, we’re biologically wired to respond as if we’re in physical peril.

So how can you talk with people who disagree with you without setting off this fight-or-flight response? Drawing on extensive online dialogues with conservatives and my own background in psychiatry and political psychology, I developed a five-step method to help people have difficult conversations.

First off, if people find themselves unable to encounter a differing political view without their “fight or flight” response going off, they need professional counseling, not an automated arguing program.

I have a better idea: If you find that this is an important part of preparing for a family meal this week, let’s do what we can to preserve Thanksgiving as what it’s supposed to be: a day of gratitude, not of political squabbles.

The temptation is understandable. Once again, there is a wealth of political topics to discuss following the midterm elections, the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and a host of other things that have happened since the last major holiday. One can picture the rush of a family member ready to display their debating prowess to a captive audience over dishes containing cranberry sauce and poultry gravy.

I’m a South Carolina native living in the northern Virginia area, and there are indeed people in my family whom I don’t get to see that often. And believe it or not, some of these people whom I love deeply don’t see eye to eye with my views about the proper size and scope of government or my more traditionalist views on societal and moral questions. The temptation to have a political rough-and-tumble in between bites of turkey is very real for me, as well as for some of them.

But why? Will a carefully choreographed defense of one’s political worldview really serve to change anyone’s mind over the course of one meal, or will it merely serve to frustrate and annoy everybody else who wanted to have a nice family meal together?

Here’s how I plan to observe this national feast of Thanksgiving, that day where people in this religiously diverse society render thanks to the higher power of our choosing and understanding: Find important things to be thankful for.

I will wake up on Thursday and prayerfully take an inventory of all the things that I’m thankful for. Then I plan to give thanks. I will thank God for everything that He has done and, when the time comes, I’ll thank my loved ones for what they’ve done and what they mean to me.

There will be plenty of time to resume our ongoing discussions in other venues. I don’t need to agree with someone’s political views to be thankful for their friendship or family ties. And they deserve to hear my thanks for what they mean to me without the baggage of disagreements that we both know will still be there in the morning.

If you want to try it, a good place to start is to ask how much of Thanksgiving preparation involves preparing for political pugilism with family members, and how much of it is in earnest reflection on the truly important things you’re thankful for?

If you find that the former outweighs the latter, maybe it’s time to stop and re-evaluate your priorities. Your other relatives may still try to engage in the annual political grudge match, but they might take a hint and see the example.

Our lives are already filled with divisive politics. Take a break from it this year. Pause, reflect, and give thanks. We’ll be glad we did.

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