How to navigate difficult conversations during the holidays

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No matter how delicious the sweet potato mash or how lovely it is to finally see your siblings after way too long, it’s practically impossible to ignore the elephant in the dining room this Thanksgiving, and fresh off the election, if the company around your table has differing political views.

“It’s messy right now,” admits Danielle Beinstein. The politically minded spiritual and astrological counselor has had an influx of people reaching out to her for guidance on how, exactly, they can make it through a multi-course meal without it either erupting in shouts or tears.

The idea is that we’re all supposed to gather and feel grateful, of course. “But some people are having a hard time feeling grateful right now,” she admits. “Resisting the mess actually just causes more angst and pain. Gratitude is essential, but it’s also essential to allow space for one’s own feelings.” 

“Gratitude is essential, but it’s also essential to allow space for one’s own feelings.”

What does that mean? Well, politics may be a historically taboo table topic, but for Beinstein, this is not the year to keep your lips zipped. “We can hold to this notion that we can just avoid and gloss over these things and just enjoy this fun meal, but that’s discounting the reality of human psychology,” she explains.

That said, the dinner table doesn’t need to turn into the boxing ring. No matter how passionate your opinions are on birth control or food safety, you’re not going to change anyone’s mind in a screaming match. “Hostility breeds more hostility,” reminds Beinstein.

Whatever your opinions and emotions may be (and yes, you might be feeling angry), putting a little thought into your tone and word choice can go a long way toward productive conversation. Because at the end of the day, you have a right to your opinions just as much as your family members do to theirs.

Here’s Beinstein’s advice for navigating tension around the table—consider it your Thanksgiving-convo cheat sheet.

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1. Accept where we are—nationally and personally.

The more we resist our current reality, the more angst we are bound to experience. Byron Katie is known for saying, “If you fight with reality you lose, but only 100 percent of the time.” Wishing the world were different or wishing those in your family had voted differently only compounds the issue. We are in unprecedented times. There’s no way around this reality; it just is.

2. Find common ground.

If the conversation turns political, your best bet is to stay focused on the underlying factors that unite, rather than divide. Most people want the same things: feelings of safety and security, an ability to pursue their interests and dreams while remaining economically sound, to be surrounded by people they love. We are, simply by the nature of our being human, more alike than different—which leads me to the next point… 

3. Ask questions—genuine questions.

This is how we come together and how we learn. Tone is crucial here. Conversation rides on energy: Hostility is rarely received well, while heart-centered curiosity almost always is. 

4. If you find yourself getting heated or irate, connect back to your body.

Excuse yourself from the table and take a bathroom break. Find your breath and recognize that you’re not likely changing anyone’s mind over the course of one meal.

5. However, it is our moral duty to stand up for others.

If we pay witness to bigotry or hatred it is our responsibility to stand up for others with dignity, purpose, and heart. This matters. But it also matters how you share that sentiment with your family so they’ll hear you.

6. There’s always Home Alone.

Can’t seem to keep conversation heading a positive direction? Turn to the wisdom of Kevin McCallister—or another family-favorite film. Let us know how it goes.

If you’re feeling stressed after a charged day around the table, here’s how to unwind—according to your astrological sign. Still dealing with lingering post-election anger? You can totally cope in a healthy way

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