Debra Mashek is Heterodox Academy’s Executive Director. She has a PhD in Social Health and Psychology (with a concentration in Quantitative Methods) from State University of New York at Stony Brook and served as a Professor in Psychology at Harvey Mudd College.
The Thanksgiving table need not be a politics-free zone. In fact, sharing political views this time of year can be an appropriate way to cultivate connection with family and friends. The trick? Bring light, not heat.
In her 2011 TED talk, writer Kathryn Schultz posed a question: “How does it feel to be wrong?” The audience responded with words like “dreadful” and “embarrassing.” Schultz pointed out that they were actually describing how it feels to realize you’re wrong. Before that moment, being wrong feels exactly like being right. What does this feeling of certainty have to do with our political conversations around this year’s Thanksgiving table?
Even when we feel certain that we have the best or most defensible view on a proposed policy or a particular politician, chances are we don’t truly understand every single nuance or have access to every possible piece of Information. Add to the mix the fact that each of us brings to our perceptions different histories, personalities, motivations, dreams, and fears. Others will most certainly see issues differently than we do. Be humble, and let that humility drive curiosity.
Rather than trying to convince others that you are right and they are wrong, commit instead to learning about and trying to understand others’ points of view. Ask questions like, “How do you see it?” and “What’s your take?” Invite others to share their thoughts. Open your comments with phrases like, “I’ve been trying to figure out” and “I wonder if.” In other words, bring light.
And leave the heat behind. This isn’t the place for an argument. We’re not trying to convince anyone to adopt our point of view, ruffle feathers, or cut someone down to size. Avoid sweeping generalizations that characterize groups as monolithic entities (“All politicians are ______”). Avoid parroting headlines or assertions heard on talk shows. And don’t pound fists, shout, or call names. All these things can raise the temperature in the room and under the collars of people you care about, creating distance instead of connection.
When we approach our political conversations with humility and curiosity, our world becomes even more complex and interesting. When we entertain the possibility that we have not cornered the perceptual market, we realize that we stand to learn from listening to others, including those family and friends with whom we have chosen to gather over the holidays. That is the gift of connection. And for this, we give thanks.
Some additional resources for a richer Thanksgiving:
- Half Hour Of Heterodoxy Episode 39: A.J. Jacobs on Gratitude
- “Three Strategies for Navigating Moral Disagreements“
- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
- Open Mind platform
Editor’s Note: A version of this essay was originally published in the November 2017 issue of The Costco Connection.
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