A Thanksgiving Day Recipe for Courageous Conversations

A Thanksgiving Day Recipe for Courageous Conversations

One of the things that I noticed post-election that was quite enjoyable was the interruption of the “how are you” conversation. I have always been thrown by this conversation non-starter, since I first encountered it in college. I would be walking around campus and see someone I knew and they would say “hi, how are you?” with great enthusiasm, but then keep walking. I would stop to answer and find myself talking to the back of their heads. I came to understand that “hi, how are you” really meant “hi.” It was a simple greeting. Until our world was changed. While the question stayed, folks were not automatically giving the “I’m okay” or “fine” line and this made everyone pause. When someone tells you that they are not okay, especially when you are used to them being okay, it makes it difficult to walk away from them.

And in this slight change in response, I felt hopeful that we can show up differently if we keep practicing. When the larger cultural mood has changed, our habits and practices get a reboot. We find many things that we are used to doing put into question. We feel unmoored and are open to responding in new ways. We have had two weeks to experience showing up differently. This will continue for some time. And for those of us who are looking to build our strength to protect and thrive in a hostile political climate, we need to use these moments to learn how to push deeper and provide better examples for how to be there for ourselves and others.

I offer Thanksgiving as a great opportunity to practice this. The Thanksgiving Day meal is considered sacred in that we hold each other to higher standards — we sit down at a table, we do not rush during the meal, we share our gratitude, we linger in each other’s company. The ritual of Thanksgiving is set up for strengthening relationships and having conversations.

There have been many calls in liberal circles to listen to the other side. I have a caution to these calls to listen because they are placed in a context where people who are worried about increasing violence and hate are being told to be more passive as a way of understanding.

I listen for a living. I listen because I love it. I listen because I learn more about myself. I listen to everyone I come into conversation with because they have something to teach me. What I learn might be a new fact, an insight into the other person, a joke, a revelation, or a warning. Listening helps me to understand those around me and to be in better relationship with them. I have no qualms about listening.

And still, if I only listened I would not consider myself fully engaged. I call for us to be in conversation with each other, which requires listening and speaking your truth. We need collectively to build our ability to speak authentically and listen deeply with everyone around us, not just someone politically opposed to us. I have been in too many settings where people have not explored a discussion with me, assuming I was “part of their choir,” assuming I agreed with them politically without ever asking me if I did; and many times I did not. Listening is an important skill but relationships require being listened to as well. Setting people up to listen without building the expectation for being heard is preparing people for therapy sessions when they need to know each other as friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, bandmates, classmates, etc.

So I offer this recipe for your upcoming Thanksgiving conversation. Like any recipe, this will depend upon the ingredients and tools you have around the table. If you are with family members who have shown callousness or disdain, adjust the recipe and try one-on-one conversations with someone you feel comforted by. If your table will be surrounded by folks you think all think the same — mix up that perception and go deeper. Only on the more superficial levels do we have uniformity in thought. Explore the nuance that exists around the table and try not to be afraid that someone can agree with you on one issue and be at odds with you on another issue.

And mostly, enjoy and have a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Here is the Recipe for Courageous Conversations:

  1. Practice. Spend time on what you would like to share. Too often we come to the dinner table not thinking about what it is we would like to say — we speak off the cuff or get anxious about what someone might say in response and end up stifling ourselves. Spend some time each day up until Thanksgiving imagining those scenarios beforehand. Go deeply into what you would like to get out — What were your hopes and dreams tied to the election? What feels lost to you? What is upsetting you about this particular moment? What are you most scared? What are you uncertain about? What is giving you hope?
  2. Be Vulnerable. Allow yourself to share and be raw and not have the answers and not be articulate and show emotions you haven’t felt in a long time or expressed with others ever. If you end up crying over the mash potatoes, so be it. There is likely more sitting in a pot on the stove.
  3. Allow Silence. Words are not our only tools for communicating. Take… long… pauses. Let others around the table feel you. Allow others their silence and do not rush to fill up space with words.
  4. Accept Comfort Gracefully. A common habit is to dismiss another’s comfort by shifting your mood and saying a quick “thank you, but I’m alright.” You might feel exposed or you do not want to be a burden to others but allowing the people around you the chance to comfort you is a great gift to give to them.
  5. Be Grateful. And this is the purpose of the day and why it is such a great holiday. A holiday that is full of contradictions of celebration, and tragedy, and genocide, and hope, and family, and discomfort, and love. This meal is life. So live fully at the table and bring your full self for others to experience.

Find out more about how to use mindfulness practice in social justice advocacy at www.leadershipmattersconsulting.com