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Let’s Talk Turkey

In two weeks, Americans across the country will gather around tables and turkeys to give thanks. And it’s a safe bet that we’re all thankful to see this ugly and raucous election cycle come to a close. It’s been a bruiser.

But to all the moms and aunts and well-intentioned hosts and hostesses who are baking pies and fretting about who sits next to whom and how to keep the conversation congenial, it’s time to take off the oven mitts.

There will be chuckling edicts, of course. “No political talk today, please!” “The election’s over — time to move on.” “Can’t we just all get along?”

The answer to that last one remains to be seen. Quite frankly, it seems a bit of a stretch, a pumpkin pie-in-the-sky platitude after the scorched-earth assault we’ve endured.

But if we’re going to give it a try … if we want a less divided Congress and a less contentious citizenry … then we must do our best to understand one another. And understanding starts with listening to one another.

Both are hard. Trust me, I know. I’ve been shaking my head a lot lately, perplexed and provoked by the machinations of politicians and the motivations of voters. Heck, I’ve been shaking my fist a lot, too — at the T.V. and its continuous torrent of angst- and anger-fueling news. Living in this rough-and-tumble Trumpian world has brought out the cussin’ toughie in me.

I don’t think I’m alone.

We’ve been talking plenty — at high volume and warp speed. (Anger tends to amp us up).

But talking isn’t getting us anywhere. Because we’re talking to ourselves and the people who agree with us, affirm us, share our frustration and outrage. The glut of cable news channels means we can click to echo chamber commentary — and nod and shout back in agreement at shouting pundits.

It’s easy to blame the media — and point to bias the size of billboards. But that’s too easy an excuse. We have the choice to turn down the volume, modulate our blood pressure and change the channel to PBS. Better still, we can turn off the T.V. entirely and engage with the real, live people around us: the grumpy uncle, opinionated cousin, bellicose brother-in-law, and the 20-something-year-old niece determined to add some spice — and vegan options — to the gathering. What better time to engage than while breaking bread with the ones you love, torment and tolerate?

There are those who will dismiss my ‘we need to listen to one another’ plea as pablum — naïve, wishful thinking. Perhaps. I’m a self-professed Pollyanna, an optimist of the chirpiest order.

And some will say there’s no reasoning with the Reds or the Blues; that we’re too far apart … too far gone … too close to weapons-grade combustion. They have a point: The words we’re using — and the wars we’re igniting — are rough, reactionary, derogatory, derisive. They are rooted in fear, anger and pain.

And that, that raw, primal emotion — fear, anger, pain — is potent stuff. The stuff we need to be talking about at the upcoming holiday table and elsewhere. We must dig deeper than ‘Build a Wall,’ ‘Fake News’ and ‘Me Too.’ Those are slogans and hashtags. We need to understand one another … ask questions … listen with care to find out where the fear and anger and pain come from: What keeps you up at night? What are your goals and hopes and worries? How are you hurting? How can we help?

I have to believe, hopeful romantic that I am, that there are ways to debate and disagree without brawling and breaking the good china. Sure, we’re out of practice. We’re hyper-partisan, truculent and twitchy. But the social skills of patience and tolerance, like table manners, can be learned and refined.

Here’s something else I believe: Informed civil discourse has got to feel better and be healthier than the constant, seething cynicism we’ve all been dealing with — the wishbone stuck in our collective craw.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, turn and look at the kid’s table, decorated with colorful hand-print turkeys and filled with little and not-so-little people watching, listening, more interested, always, in how grownups behave than in the green bean casserole before them. Heck, they’d pass on the pie if they could gain closer proximity to you and the other big ones.

Our young people are rising, resisting and responding to pivotal issues like gun violence, racial injustice, gender inequality and immigrant rights. Let them see us respect one another. Let them hear us speak of things that matter and make a difference. Let them learn from us.

As the election results and post mortem have shown, we are deeply, distressingly divided. And the miles that separate us aren’t just of the ‘to grandmother’s house we go!’ variety. They are vitriolic chasms. Expansive rifts of feeling misunderstood, marginalized, disparaged and discounted. We may knock elbows over the dinner table, but we are oceans apart in how we feel about the future.

I suggest we all talk turkey this Thanksgiving, and count among our blessing the right contrary opinions — on democratic dogma and the perennial apple vs. pecan pie debate. Let’s override the Miss Manners edict of avoiding political talk in polite social gatherings. Maya Angelou urges us to be angry; not bitter, and to use anger wisely: ‘You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.’

Let’s keep talking, folks. A gravy boat may not get us across the expanse — but it’s a start. And listening is easier when your mouth is full and your tummy’s happy. So, go back for seconds. Undo your belt. Lean in and listen.

Happy Thanksgiving y’all!