Every year, the folks at Slate publish a talking points guide to help readers win the contentious debates that so often pock our Thanksgiving dinners. This year, Slate Political Correspondent John Dickerson instead pleads for peace.
“This year we’re going to give the argument settler a rest. There is too much bickering and fighting in the political conversation already. The supply is short of patience, consideration, fellow-feeling, and independent thought that once cushioned heated debate and distinguished spirited exchanges from schoolyard bullying. This is my little plea for peace. Let’s get through Thanksgiving without a row this year.”
That’s a valiant goal, though perhaps a little too starry-eyed to be realistic. All it takes is one bitter uncle to begin lobbing assaults on climate change for all hell to break loose. Your college-aged cousin begins accusing Republicans of being cavemen. Dumb Aunt Margaret argues vociferously that vaccines cause autism. Avuncular goodwill turns to avuncular spite (he’s probably drinking more than Martinelli’s at this point). And what’s supposed to be a celebration of thankfulness transforms into an ugly, unintellectual wrestling match to mask the subtext of prickling family strife.
So what does Dickerson suggest instead? He acknowledges that debate can be important for many families, though recommends that the tone and content of the arguments be shifted toward topics people feel less passionate about:
“In some families the annual sparring serves a useful social purpose. Political conversation takes the place of silence, or better yet, takes the place of disputes over old grudges that would fill the silence. Some families are made up of pugilists who cannot be appealed to with calls for an armistice. They simply must debate something.”
Dickerson offers a sort of ‘Mad Libs’ solution. He provides several talking points — some silly, others more whimsically philosophical — to spur conversation in a direction to not lead to the dark depths to which your typical yearly debates plunge. These range from:
Would you rather play the world’s instruments expertly or speak the world’s languages fluently?
If you could demolish one building with no casualties, which would it be?
If all music were replaced by the works of one of the following artists, which would be better: Billy Joel or Beethoven?
The point is to give people who must debate a series of prearranged topics to fill the time without opening the door to anger.
(Then again, on second thought, some families have members who would go to the wall for Billy Joel, so…)
Either way, the point here is that the Thanksgiving table is not the place to make your fellow family members suffer because you’re an indignant blowhard. If your political arguments are making at least one person around the turkey feel awkward, that’s one person way too many. Rein in your impulses and instead think up a good reason why learning to play tuba would be more useful than speaking Esperanto.
Read more at Slate
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