Rea­son for thanks: don’t fight over it

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Alex Rose arose@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @aroseDelco on Twit­ter

Thanks­giv­ing is a time to join with friends and fam­ily, take stock of the things we cher­ish and, on oc­ca­sion, hurl slurred in­vec­tives at loved ones around gulp­ing mouth­fuls of wine.

With the most frac­tious pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in re­cent mem­ory only a few weeks be­hind us, this year is prob­a­bly not go­ing to be much dif­fer­ent.

“This elec­tion has been, in my mem­ory, prob­a­bly the most di­vi­sive and nasty that I can re­call, and there’s a lot of resid­ual anger and bit­ter­ness about it that’s lin­ger­ing,” said psy­chol­o­gist and fam­ily ther­a­pist Jerry Lazaroff.

That has trans­lated to a cer­tain amount of an­tic­i­pa­tory dread for many of Lazaroff’s clients lo­cally who might have sup­ported Hil­lary Clin­ton and will be trav­el­ing to parts of the state where Don­ald Trump did par­tic­u­larly well.

“They’re an­tic­i­pat­ing they’re go­ing to get has­sled about it and taunted about their views and jabbed a lit­tle bit about their de­ci­sions,” he said. “What I hope is that the host or host­ess of Thanks­giv­ing din­ner will strive to make their get to­gether a con­flict­free zone, an­tic­i­pat­ing that not ev­ery­body is go­ing to be of the same per­sua­sion and voted the same.”

To help ease ten­sions be­fore they arise, Lazaroff sug­gested hosts could an­nounce cer­tain top­ics are off lim­its or that only re­spect­ful dis­cus­sion will be tol­er­ated. If the con­ver­sa­tion does veer into un­com­fort­able or chaotic wa­ters, he said, a gen­tle but firm re­di­rect­ion might be in or­der.

“Hope­fully the host or host­ess would set the tone,” he said. “(They) should strive to keep things civil and to re­mem­ber what the point of Thanks­giv­ing is: You’re sup­posed to be grate­ful and ap­pre­cia­tive for all the good­ness that one has in their life.”

Tracy Hornig, di­rec­tor

of me­di­a­tions and train­ing at the Cen­ter for Res­o­lu­tions in Me­dia, agreed it might not be a bad idea to go over the “what ifs” of the an­nual gath­er­ing and have a game plan for po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions. Most peo­ple will re­spect a host that sets some ground rules, she said, and hosts should feel com­fort­able en­forc­ing those rules if nec­es­sary.

It is also im­por­tant to know your own trig­gers if you want to avoid get­ting caught in the trap of be­ing the one who es­ca­lates the con­ver­sa­tion, Hornig said. Keep­ing an eye out for warn­ing signs will help you know when to dial it down or take a break be­fore things be­come too heated.

Hornig also sug­gested those who do throw them­selves into the fray keep any dis­cus­sions of pol­i­tics squarely on the topic at hand, not the per­son­al­ity of the other per­son en­gaged in the con­ver­sa­tion.

“If you’re some­body who wants to be en­gaged in con­ver­sa­tion, it’s re­ally im­por­tant to keep the fo­cus on your­self,” she said. “If you’re de­bat­ing a cer­tain topic and you say to the other in­di­vid­ual, ‘Well, you like this and you think he’s great or you think she did that,’ it comes across to the other per­son like they’re be­ing at­tacked.”

Of­fer­ing “I” state­ments in­stead – such as “I don’t agree with can­di­date A on X, Y, and Z” – al­lows you to con­vey an opin­ion with­out get­ting per­sonal or ap­pear­ing to make a state­ment about the per­son sit­ting across from you.

Hornig noted that con­flict it­self is not nec­es­sar­ily bad if it is pro­duc­tive. Two op­pos­ing view­points pitched in bat­tle can be a good thing if both sides are hav­ing a mu­tu­ally re­spect­ful ex­change of ideas. But lis­ten to the tone and check the body lan­guage – at the point any­one is get­ting worked up and yelling, it is prob­a­bly too late to get any­thing across to them, said Hornig.

“They’ve ba­si­cally shut out any­thing that some­one else might try to share with them, so any at­tempt to per­suade them is fu­tile,” she said. “What you can do is try to help just de-es­ca­late that anger by say­ing sup­port­ive things like, ‘Hey, I know this is a dif­fi­cult topic … peo­ple have strong feel­ings about what’s hap­pen­ing in our coun­try right now, I can see you’re up­set, that’s not what I wanted to hap­pen.’ Just to bring them back down so that you can en­gage in a more con­struc­tive con­ver­sa­tion.”

It might also be help­ful to set a few an­chors of com­mon ground to re­turn to, said Hernig. These con­ver­sa­tions tend to be­come heated be­cause both sides share a pas­sion about the state of the coun­try and the di­rec­tion it is head­ing, she said.

Those com­mon­al­i­ties should be kept in mind when dis­cussing dif­fer­ing points of view.

Lazaroff also noted it al­ways takes two peo­ple to ar­gue. It is per­fectly rea­son­able for one party to sim­ply refuse to en­gage in an up­set­ting or harm­ful dis­cus­sion, he said. If the other side re­fuses to abide, it is also OK to walk away.

“Or, de­pend­ing on where you are, drive away,” Lazaroff said. “If it be­comes a hos­tile set­ting that’s not en­joy­able, you can re­peat through­out the in­ter­ac­tion that ‘this is mak­ing me highly un­com­fort­able, it needs to stop’ or, if nec­es­sary, ‘I’m go­ing to go home.’”

While hav­ing your re­spec­tive can­di­date’s bona fides at hand last year might have been ad­vis­able, Lazaroff cau­tioned against bring­ing those ar­gu­ments to the ta­ble post­elec­tion.

“What­ever one’s ar­gu­ment or po­si­tion would be, whether it’s valid or not, it’s only go­ing to be met with ran­cor from the other side and an al­ter­na­tive po­si­tion, and there­fore an ar­gu­ment is likely to en­sue,” he said. “I think the best ad­vice would be to just avoid dis­cussing it and say­ing, ‘Hey, Thanks­giv­ing is about be­ing close and be­ing grate­ful for what we have, and I don’t want it to be tainted by any po­lit­i­cal talk tonight.”


Protests like this one in­volv­ing hun­dreds of Rut­gers Univer­sity stu­dents have popped up across the coun­try in the wake of the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as pres­i­dent. Sev­eral lo­cal ex­perts have tips to avoid al­low­ing po­lit­i­cal squab­bling to ruin your hol­i­day gath­er­ing.


Demon­stra­tors hold a ban­ner as they protest in Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue out­side of the Trump Ho­tel in Wash­ing­ton in op­po­si­tion of Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, on Satur­day,

Dr. Jerry Lazaroff

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