As We Gather

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and the official start of the gathering season. Some of us with gather with family, some with friends, some with strangers, and we will share meals, drinks, copious amounts of pie, and also, our opinions. Depending on your particular traditions & rhythms, the holiday season can usher in rest or stress, feelings of centeredness or disillusion, peace or anxiety.

One particular influencer of how the season goes is the conversations had around the table. And after a particularly divisive election season, these conversations are sure to be more interesting than usual. So as you dive into the world of differing opinions on everything from faith to politics, heed a few words of advice for a happy and productive family gathering:

  1. Remember the Big Picture. You’ve had it happen before, right? Your uncle starts off on a one-sided diatribe about politics and you feel the righteous indignation rise up within you. You are about to blow your lid and you need something to calm you down, and quickly! Just take a deep breath in and remember the big picture. Think about your space in the universe, how small we are, and how large everything else is. Think about the planets, the stars, the galaxies. Zoom way out. It makes your uncle’s political opinions look pretty unimportant, right? As you zoom back in, remember your call to love others, to move the whole thing forward, not backwards.

  2. Ask Questions. Asking questions is one of the most strategic ways both learn and grow as you navigate difficult conversations. For example, let’s say your mother-in-law says something about a women’s place being in the home. Though the third-wave feminist inside of you may immediately want to lash out, start with a question: “That’s a really interesting perspective. Can you tell me why you think that’s the case?” Tone is very important here, but if you are genuinely very interested in their perspective, they will pick up on that. Questions are a way of engaging in a dialogue about something important, without immediately stating your side. They give you neutrality while you get a little more information. Did someone say something you disagree with? Dig a little deeper, find out why they believe what they believe, and how they got there. Chances are, you might learn a little from their experiences, even if you may have arrived at a different conclusion.

  3. Keep Gratitude at the Center. Be thankful you even have a family to disagree with. Even though you have a lot of differences, you have a lot more in common - you are family; you share roots. What a beautiful thing it is that people raised in the same way can wind up so completely different with a host of opinions and talents to offer. Remember there is beauty in diversity and you are privileged to have family, even if they are not perfect.

  4. Say What You Need to Say. No one benefits from you not being yourself. While this does not mean you have to say everything that comes to mind or defend your every position, it does leave room for thoughtful engagement. Avoid drastic generalizations and over-exaggerations, but do not be afraid to tell your family and friends what you believe to be true. Your family deserves to know the real you, not a bottled-up/stuff-it all-down version of you.

  5. Respect the House. Family and friends learn a lot about who you are in terms of how you care for others and their spaces. Trying to set an example of loving others? Great, start with the dirty dishes. If you have just made a political case around the dinner table for why we need to love immigrants and open up our borders, start by loving your family and showing them your care in very simple ways. Offer to make the coffee, scoop ice cream over the pie, be the first one to start the dishes or help clean up once everyone else has left. Your simple actions towards your family speak much louder than any voice of dissent over a table.

Overall, remember the vast amount of great gifts we have been given to even gather around a table with huge amounts of food, warm heaters, and a roof over our head. Be generous and kind. Choose love over anger and grace over judgement. Keep gratitude at the center as we gather.