In light of the deep divide across our country, and with the intention of fostering productive and positive dinner conversations with family and friends, we put together a few tips on how to facilitate meaningful holiday conversations at the dinner table with a focus on real issues and social challenges.
- Don’t initiate the conversation yourself if it hasn’t gone there already. This may seem like an obvious, but given how passionate many of us are about the issues facing our country, it’s the easiest step to avoid allowing the conversation to turn negative. A productive, healthy, respectful debate about the issues may be welcome but if you need an outlet ahead of time, call a friend, listen to a political podcast, or even journal some thoughts so you don’t feel bottled up upon arriving at your family/friend’s home.
- Pick up on family and friends’ references to big issues like immigration or hate speech and share the names of a few well-respected American leaders that were immigrants. From philanthropists like Michael J. Fox to business leaders like Rupert Murdoch, or from sports figures like Sammy Sosa to celebrities like Charlize Theron – this lightens the conversation and can serve as an easy transition from policy issues to Parkinson’s disease.
- Similarly, you can extrapolate the larger issues from your family or friends’ comments to discuss innovation and how quickly the world is changing. Arguments around infrastructure investments? Share about Elon Musk’s Hyperloop or the Gates Foundation’s Toilets!
- Personalize it. Help family and friends understand how negative comments affect you. Reference specific people in your life to make it clear that generalizations about groups of individuals are dangerous. Keep it short and fact based, in order to minimize uncomfortable contention.
- Celebrate the Season of Giving. A common one is to go around the dinner table and share what each individual is grateful for. Ask everyone to share one personal item, and one more macro item. A continued exercise to share is to write three things a day that you are grateful for over a 21-day period. Gratitude exercises have been proven to make you happier, feel more relaxed, and can draw people closer to each other.
- Focus on tangible ways to celebrate the holiday spirit. Invite everyone to share how they have positively affected someone’s life this year, and their favorite charity. Asking everyone to think outside of himself or herself, is a great way to focus on a conversation around what we have in common, and what we can learn from each other.
- Lastly, we encourage everyone to focus on values in their discussions. If we each lead with what’s important to us, we’ll begin to see that we often want the same things. Starting from a place of connection and understanding can often lead to very different conversations, than when we start from opposite sides of an issue.
Happy holidays to all of our friends this season!
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