Many tell us what to think. I ask my readers to be skeptical. Question me and others.

Life and politics

I wish us all stormy family dinners in 2019

stormy dinners

During Christmas we reconnect with family and friends. If this is just a card or an email, it is safe; if we need to sit around the same dinner table, things get tricky. Politics always has been a hot subject of discussions at gatherings with family or friends. The old maxim says that religion and politics are not supposed to be discussed in polite society. But, how do we prevent social gatherings from being dreary without discussing what is on our minds, without talking about politics?

Recently, I noticed that politics had become a taboo. As I heard recently, for holy peace during holidays, politics needed to be off the table. Call me a weirdo, but I miss it. As a political writer, I might be more interested in politics than others, but usually I did not feel it playing out this way when after a few drinks people became more talkative. Even those claiming to be not interested in politics had been voicing their opinions. Discussions had been louder and more chaotic than now, when everyone is carefully avoiding politics. They lasted often longer than planned because there was some joy and satisfaction from tackling big issues. Now, with voices calmed down and pleasantries floating around, we catch ourselves thinking about leaving the event earlier than it would be considered tactful to do.

In recent years politics became more polarized, and so were the family dinners. Gradually, for the sake of peace, politics have been moved aside. When we were able to talk politics openly with family and friends, we found out that even at a small gathering, we had people representing the whole spectrum of political views. It is different to hear an opponent who is someone we love, or at least like and respect enough to socialize with, than when the opponent is a talking head on TV. In face-to-face contact, we can see better the human dimension of the arguments of someone we disagree with. They can see the same in our reasoning. Then, our first thought is how we can accommodate the objectives of our opponent without giving up ours. Or, what we would need to do in order to shift their position closer to ours. And they think the same. Most of all, those talks over the dinner, in the kitchen or on the patio, for most of us, had been the only direct conversations with people of diverse political views. On so many occasions I have learned something new, pointing me to search for more information later on.

Now, when the national divide has reached families and we do not talk directly with others of different views, our opponents are no longer people we know, love and would like to live in peace with. Our opponents are depersonalized. They have become the enemies we fight. It struck me when, in response to one of my comments on Medium, where recently I repost my texts, the person whose views I questioned responded: “People with your viewpoints are the enemy I fight, not the people I try to win over.” I doubt that the same response would have been given if my reasoning had been presented face-to-face by a loved family member or a close friend, in a casual conversation over a Thanksgiving dinner.

But we do not have these conversations anymore. “Fight” became the favorite word used by politicians. No one is focusing on understanding the problems and on seeking solutions. The ongoing circus in Washington boils down to politicians being entrenched in their positions and fighting each other. We can criticize them, but we have to accept that it is a logical consequence of us having banned political subjects from our conversations on Thanksgiving or at Christmas.

I wish for all of us that in 2019 we can find a way to survive stormy political discussions during gatherings with family and friends. I do not have any clever advice how to do it, but I know that we have to do it. I wish for all of us that by Thanksgiving 2019 we will be ready for stormy family dinners, and we will feel accomplished a day after.

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