Thanksgiving dinner with the family?

Here are few tips from a crisis expert

Did you leave your family Thanksgiving dinner last year feeling like you were the one who got carved up and digested? 

You’re not alone – politics is an indispensable holiday side. 

Wear your comfy pants, because this dish is plated up with a hefty portion of keep-your-mouth-shut and paired with a glass of ice-cold glare. 

But before you gobble down a hot plate of I-told-you-so’s, here are a few tips from Carrie Ransom of the crisis negotiation team at the Springfield Police Department about how to survive a hostage negotiation – which might be helpful if you feel basted next week. 

The irony of Ransom’s name isn’t lost on her, she says openly. “It’s a sentence in itself.” 

Tip #1: Preservation of life

• “If we’re going to talk about goals that would apply to dealing with family would be to not kill each other. We all want to make it through, we want everyone to be safe. That’s number one,” she said. 

The religious separatists who celebrated the first Thanksgiving serve as a reminder that politics need not be secular in nature – America’s a feed-trough of ideas, afterall. A vegan family is free to discuss their favorite cut of beef, just as a truck driver is at liberty to test-drive a Prius.

Tip #2: Relax, give the conversation space

• “When you switch to more of a de-escalation role, it’s about allowing time to pass so that people can relax,” Ransom said. “Give them a space to vent and be heard. A lot of times, we want someone to listen to us. We work on building rapport and building trust.” 

Of course, that’s easier said than done. For instance, most of our conversations will only escalate at the dinner table, peppered with phrases such as  “according to science,” “I read it on Facebook” and “because my gender-studies professor said so.” 

Tip #3: Find common ground

• “Say you have a grumpy uncle you don’t get along with, but you both like baseball,” Ransom offered. “You can learn something, it can be neat for you to approach people with curiosity. It gives them space to share a part of themselves.” 

There are so many subjects to choose from. Important but seldom discussed topics include land-use policy, local funding levies and the clear-cutting of old-growth forests. Get creative. Zoning rules aren’t likely to hold anyone’s attention for long. 

But what if you researched the land on which your gathering was being held and traveled to the nearest indigenous nation with the most viable claim to it and asked the property owner whether he or she would be willing to deed it over as a special Thanksgiving Day gesture? That’d be tasty. 

And while you do have a moral obligation to discuss climate change, as all life on earth is doomed unless everyone leaves your table convinced of the need to ban the use of fossil fuels – the savvy Thanksgiving participant will depart early to get online and buy a “Save the Earth” tee from Amazon. 

If your goodbyes are taking longer than you’d like, borrow a trick from the Academy Awards: Put “Black Friday” by Steely Dan on the home stereo and gradually turn the volume louder and louder until everyone stops talking. 

“We don’t have to agree with our family,” Ransom said. “We can all have opinions, especially around politics or things we fundamentally agree on – if we can set aside our emotions and be curious, without feeling attacked or engaging in an argument. You can really learn something.”

Take your exit, pat yourself on the back and settle into your discount weighted blanket – you’ve successfully pulled off the best Thanksgiving of your life. 

Just remember, no matter what camp you’re in – we’re all sitting at the same table.

Ryleigh Norgrove is a staff writer for The Chronicle. You can reach her at [email protected].



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