“Hey Jesse, what do you think about Trump?” Always looking to stir the pot, my grandpa stared down my future brother-in-law, looking to make this Thanksgiving a bit more lively. The dining room table was a perfect physical manifestation of the political spectrum. Down on the left-hand side sat my step sister, her fiancé, my cousin, and her husband; then the more moderate-leaning individuals, including my brother and his girlfriend, sat in a central area of the table; and finally on the right-hand wing of the table sat my grandparents, my mom, step dad, dad, and step mom. My parents are by no means overly conservative, but compared to my sister and cousin, who are radically liberal, there seemed to be an extreme divide. My mom made sure I sat straight across from her so I would be the one exception to such a great visible representation of the Thanksgiving political atmosphere. Not wishing to upset the family he would soon be a part of, Jesse did not respond to my grandfather, but my step sister made sure she took the opportunity to make some less-than-pleasant comments about Trump. Although no one seated at that table was particularly fond of Trump, my dad made it rather clear that anyone with anti-American sentiments could feel free to leave — not thinking anyone would actually take up the offer. Alas, my stepsister stood up and made her way to the door, but it did not take long for her mom to coerce her to sit back down.
It is often said that, at family gatherings, two topics should be avoided at all cost: politics and religion. I believe this shows a real weakness in human communication that has become prevalent in recent years. As someone who studies religion nearly every day, I have particular qualms about the latter taboo topic. At a time when studying philosophy, religion, or art is often warned against due to the idea that such subjects will not be able to provide financially, I believe it is more important now than ever to keep questions of faith on the table.
There is not a single culture today that has not at one point or another sought the answers to the questions that religion, philosophy, and art provide: What does it mean to be human? How should we act while we are temporarily on this planet? What is my role in this universe? These are questions that Western cultures have strayed from because they do not seem to have any relevance to their concern: How can I make as much money as possible and fulfill all my material desires? Talking about religion allows us to understand humanity better, to become familiar with the various cultures of the world.
Living in such a diverse nation, it will help us to understand our own neighbors. Who better to talk with about notions of love and what is truly important in life than the family who has loved you since day one? Even if you come from a very religious family who sees no truth in other world’s religions, the holidays could be the perfect time to learn about what faith means to your family members and to demonstrate where the common ground can be found among different groups of believers.
Just like religion, politics are considered taboo, but this shouldn’t be the case. There is a lot of passion regarding political issues because people feel very strongly about social issues affecting our nation, but it is too easy to let passion get in the way of effective communication. It is easy within a two-party system like America, to have a black-and-white outlook about supporters of either political party — Democrats must be sensitive and Republicans must be uncompassionate — but it is not so simple. If you know one family member that has been known to vote conservatively, it may be easy to go into that family party ready for a show-down.
However, your inability to consider an opposing view may make you just as close-minded as you believe that family member to be. We have lost our ability to listen to someone with contrasting political ideals, but if we wish to create a more understanding, pluralistic society, we have to be able to take a second to try to comprehend just why a person may feel the way they do. This is not to say that if a family member offends you that you should not respectfully inform them, and if there are clearly false “facts” being thrown around the dinner table, feel free to calmly educate your family members. But, all-in-all, just remember that the holidays are a time to express gratitude for everything you have been granted in a time when, for many people around the world, there may be empty seats at the dinner table, no food to be passed around, or questions of survival that arising before any question of politics or religion. Let’s all wish one another luck as we head home in just a week for the holidays.