Marty Troyer gives some great insight as to why family thanksgivings can be so difficult for some, and how to handle it. Here’s an excerpt from his article in the Houston Chronicle:
“…you’re getting ready for hours of extroverted time with people who believe differently, vote differently, function differently, parent differently, eat differently, relax differently, entertain differently, pray differently, and expect differently than you do. Let’s face it, we like our routines, and Thanksgiving is nothing if not unusual. It’s not that we don’t love these people, we’re just not used to interacting with them. And most aren’t used to dealing with conflict daily. Which means Thursday is as ripe for anxiety as it is for giving thanks. From my experience with FaithWalking, here’s how to eat the turkey and not each other.
Remember that anxiety is contagious, but you don’t have to pass it on. Everyone at table Thursday is connected, and each person’s anxiety can and will ripple throughout the room. For instance, if the turkey isn’t done on time the host may visibly or emotionally vibrate with anxiety. You have a choice to conduct that energy, or to soak it up and allow it to stop with you. Easier perhaps when its a turkey than when dad flips out over your election vote, but the principle is the same. Choose to absorb, not conduct, the anxiety in the room. And pay attention to your own anxiety (clinched fists, tightened back, drooping posture, etc…) so that you can be its master and not the other way around.
Be gracious with people’s blind spots. Old roles and patterns of behavior may be on full display, as family reunions have a tendency to call out the best and worst of ourselves. And much that you will see and experience will be blind to those who are saying and doing it. The image to the right explains this well. When your awareness of someone’s behavior exceeds their awareness of their own behavior, you have a lot of power! Use it well. Yes, you can predict who will explode and leave the table (like always). No, your parents still don’t want your financial advice no matter how brilliant. This is not the time to bring up personality traits, point out glaring weaknesses, or say anything that includes “you always!” or “you never!” Yes, you can see it as plain as day, but if they haven’t been transformed in the last 30 years, don’t expect it to happen today.
Say what is so for you, but take a learning posture. In other words, be civil. I love the definition of civility from Tomas Spath, “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” Speak the truth, tell your story and don’t let anyone run all over you. The Jesus ethic does not demand you loose arguments. Honesty is essential. But so is granting others the same amount of respect you desire. Don’t in any way hide your beliefs, but at the same time stay engaged with those you disagree with. Taking a learning, rather than a “teaching” posture, can often diffuse the anxiety and shows respect for those around the table, even if you experience them as “enemies.”
If insults start to fly, just take it. Of course you’re right, you’re absolutely right! Doesn’t matter what you’re right about (ObamaCare, Benghazi, the ridiculousness of a Red Dawnremake) just shut up and take it anyway. Why? Because your relationship with these crazy people is more important than being right. Trust me on this one, it doesn’t matter who wins the argument, you’re family. You can’t control what anyone else will say or do, but you can control your own actions and anxiety. We are, after all, people who claim not only to “believe in” Jesus, but people who actually believe him when he lays out for us a strategy of non-retribution for the healing of both the human heart and the world community. So if you’re insulted, don’t insult in return.
Finally, Apologize and forgive. Whether you’ve been the one who pushed too far or they were, Jesus tells us in Matthew it’s our responsibility to initiate reconciliation. Cool off first, eat some pie, watch the second half, whatever. But say the words. Make it right. There’s a reason we leave dessert for last, it covers a multitude of sins. And, if by chance you learn something important about conflict, come back here Friday and let us all know what it is! “